A modeling study conducted by Madhavi Bajekal and colleagues estimates the extent to which specific risk factors and changes in uptake of treatment contributed to the declines in coronary heart disease mortality in England between 2000 and 2007, across and within socioeconomic groups.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality in England fell by approximately 6% every year between 2000 and 2007. However, rates fell differentially between social groups with inequalities actually widening. We sought to describe the extent to which this reduction in CHD mortality was attributable to changes in either levels of risk factors or treatment uptake, both across and within socioeconomic groups.
Methods and Findings
A widely used and replicated epidemiological model was used to synthesise estimates stratified by age, gender, and area deprivation quintiles for the English population aged 25 and older between 2000 and 2007. Mortality rates fell, with approximately 38,000 fewer CHD deaths in 2007. The model explained about 86% (95% uncertainty interval: 65%–107%) of this mortality fall. Decreases in major cardiovascular risk factors contributed approximately 34% (21%–47%) to the overall decline in CHD mortality: ranging from about 44% (31%–61%) in the most deprived to 29% (16%–42%) in the most affluent quintile. The biggest contribution came from a substantial fall in systolic blood pressure in the population not on hypertension medication (29%; 18%–40%); more so in deprived (37%) than in affluent (25%) areas. Other risk factor contributions were relatively modest across all social groups: total cholesterol (6%), smoking (3%), and physical activity (2%). Furthermore, these benefits were partly negated by mortality increases attributable to rises in body mass index and diabetes (−9%; −17% to −3%), particularly in more deprived quintiles. Treatments accounted for approximately 52% (40%–70%) of the mortality decline, equitably distributed across all social groups. Lipid reduction (14%), chronic angina treatment (13%), and secondary prevention (11%) made the largest medical contributions.
The model suggests that approximately half the recent CHD mortality fall in England was attributable to improved treatment uptake. This benefit occurred evenly across all social groups. However, opposing trends in major risk factors meant that their net contribution amounted to just over a third of the CHD deaths averted; these also varied substantially by socioeconomic group. Powerful and equitable evidence-based population-wide policy interventions exist; these should now be urgently implemented to effectively tackle persistent inequalities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Coronary heart disease is a chronic medical condition in which the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle become narrowed or even blocked by fatty deposits on the inner linings of the blood vessels—a process known as arthrosclerosis; this restricts blood flow to the heart, and if the blood vessels completely occlude, it may cause a heart attack. Lifestyle behaviors, such as unhealthy diets high in saturated fat, smoking, and physical inactivity, are the main risk factors for coronary heart disease, so efforts to reduce this condition are directed towards these factors. Global rates of coronary heart disease are increasing and the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, it will be the biggest cause of death worldwide. However, in high-income countries, such as England, deaths due to coronary heart disease have actually fallen substantially over the past few decades with an accelerated reduction in annual death rates since 2000.
Why Was This Study Done?
Socioeconomic factors play an important role in chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, with mortality rates almost twice as high in deprived than affluent areas. However, the potential effect of population-wide interventions on reducing inequalities in deaths from coronary heart disease remains unclear. So in this study, the researchers investigated the role of behavioral (changing lifestyle) and medical (treatments) management of coronary heart disease that contributed to the decrease in deaths in England for the period 2000–2007, within and between socioeconomic groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a well-known, tried and tested epidemiological model (IMPACT) but adapted it to include socioeconomic inequalities to analyze the total population of England aged 25 and older in 2000 and in 2007. The researchers included all the major risk factors for coronary heart disease plus 45 current medical and surgical treatments in their model. They used the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2007 as a proxy indicator of socioeconomic circumstances of residents in neighborhoods. Using the postal code of residence, the researchers matched deaths from, and patients treated for, coronary heart disease to the corresponding deprivation category (quintile). Changes in risk factor levels in each quintile were also calculated using the Health Survey for England. Using their model, the researchers calculated the total number of deaths prevented or postponed for each deprivation quintile by measuring the difference between observed deaths in 2007 and expected deaths based on 2000 data, if age, sex, and deprivation quintile death rates had remained the same.
The researchers found that between 2000 and 2007, death rates from coronary heart disease fell from 229 to 147 deaths per 100,000—a decrease of 36%. Both death rates and the number of deaths were lowest in the most affluent quintile and the pace of fall was also faster, decreasing by 6.7% per year compared to just 4.9% in the most deprived quintile. Furthermore, the researchers found that overall, about half of the decrease in death rates was attributable to improvements in uptake of medical and surgical treatments. The contribution of medical treatments to the deaths averted was very similar across all quintiles, ranging from 50% in the most affluent quintile to 53% in the most deprived. Risk factor changes accounted for approximately a third fewer deaths in 2007 than occurred in 2000, but were responsible for a smaller proportion of deaths prevented in the most affluent quintile compared with the most deprived (approximately 29% versus 44%, respectively). However, the benefits of improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, and physical activity were partly negated by rises in body mass index and diabetes, particularly in more deprived quintiles.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that approximately half the recent substantial fall in deaths from coronary heart disease in England was attributable to improved treatment uptake across all social groups; this is consistent with equitable service delivery across the UK's National Health Service. However, opposing trends in major risk factors, which varied substantially by socioeconomic group, meant that their net contribution accounted for just a third of deaths averted. Other countries have implemented effective, evidence-based interventions to tackle lifestyle risk factors; the most powerful measures involve legislation, regulation, taxation, or subsidies, all of which tend to be equitable. Such measures should be urgently implemented in England to effectively tackle persistent inequalities in deaths due to coronary heart disease.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001237.
The World Health Organization has information about the global statistics of coronary heart disease
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute provides a patient-friendly description of coronary heart disease
The National Heart Forum is the leading UK organization facilitating the prevention of coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases
The British Heart Foundation supports research and promotes preventative activity
Heart of Mersey is the UK's largest regional organization promoting the prevention of coronary heart disease and other chronic diseases
More information about the social determinants of health is available from WHO