Study Shows Increase in Heart Disease Among People Below 50

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • Over the last 30 years the incidence of heart disease has been steadily declining. However, a recent study (2008) has shown that this long-term trend may be coming to an abrupt halt, amongst those in their late 30s to early 50s.

    Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, and the University of British Columbia, studied autopsies of 425 people aged between 16-64, from 1981-2004. They found that 8.2% had high-grade disease, and 83% had the beginnings of coronary artery disease.

    They noted that the decline in the incidence of coronary artery disease ended after 1995, and began to climb again after 2000.

    Other studies have shown that in the UK, US and Australia although death due to heart disease is still continuing to fall amongst the elderly, death rates are increasing amongst individuals in the 35-54 age range.

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    Possible reasons for this increase:

    It has been suggested that the increased incidence is due to rising rates of obesity and diabetes, and also the culture of excessive drinking and smoking.


    The rise could also be a result of increasingly sedentary lifestyles (Internet, TV, video games), the growth of fast-food chains, larger portion sizes, and reduced physical education in schools. But, do patients adhere to the advice of health professionals?

    Apparently not! Dr. Mellen, from the Hattiesburg Clinic, carried out research on patients with high blood pressure to find out if they were adhering to the recommended diet. In the period before 1997 data showed diets high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, and that this could significantly lower blood pressure.

    However, they found that the quality of eating in those with high blood pressure had deteriorated over the last 15 years. Dr. Mellen said, "In our study, the youngest age group was the age group with the worse disease." "This age group will have major problems as they continue to age," he said.

    Another study looking at patients with heart disease, and carried out by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, found that few were meeting the recommendations:

    • Just 12.4% were eating five or more servings of vegetables a day.
    • 7.8% were eating at least four servings of fruit each day.
    • Fewer than 8% met recommendations for fiber consumption.
    • 3.41% of their calories came from trans fat (recommended less than 0.5%).
    • Only half had exercised for at least 20 minutes once in the past three months.
    • 80% did not go to cardiac rehab programs following a heart attack.

    So, it’s pretty clear that some patients are struggling to make healthy lifestyle choices across all age groups!

    What can be done? What do you think the main barriers are in following a healthy way of life?

    8 tips to help control your heart disease risk factors:

    1. Have regular health checkups if you are above 35 years.
    2. Follow a healthy, balanced diet - high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oily fish. Try to avoid junk foods, soft drinks, and anything that is highly processed, as much as possible.
    3. Reduce your food portions.

  • 4. Don’t take up smoking, and consider seeking help to quit, if you already do.

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    5. Take care to control high blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels within their ‘normal’ range.
    6. Try to lose weight, if necessary.
    7. Take regular exercise – aim for 30 minutes, most days of the week.
    8. Don’t neglect warning signs, for example chest pain and breathlessness – it’s important that you consult your doctor immediately.

    Melanie Thomassian is a dietitian and author of, an online resource for credible healthy eating tips for busy people.


Published On: April 11, 2008