Ringing in the new year with healthier hearts

Posted Dec. 29, 2012, at 12:08 p.m.

There are innumerable wonderful things about living in Maine. One of the not-so-wonderful things is that, for a very long time, Mainers have been burdened with higher rates of cardiovascular disease than residents in nearly every other state.

That appears to be changing.

Our hearts are now healthier, and more of us have achieved ideal cardiovascular health, than at any time in the past decade.

The Journal of the American Heart Association recently released a report detailing a state-by-state comparison of heart health.

Mainers’ hearts — and, please, call us surprised — are healthier than the hearts in 43 other states.

That’s extraordinary, especially when you consider that Maine used to be home to the least heart-healthy population in the country.

That we have advanced so much in 10 years is progress to celebrate. It’s not reason to be complacent, because there’s still work to do, but efforts by private and public health organizations over the past decade have been tremendously successful — as the AHA data proves.

According to that data, 4.5 percent of adult Mainers polled reported that they enjoy “ideal” cardiovascular health. That doesn’t sound like a number to celebrate, but it’s better than the health of people polled in Minnesota, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Oregon and Florida. We’re statistically equal to what Americans often consider to be the “healthy” state of Colorado.

If we examine the New England-specific data, we’re healthier than the folks in Rhode Island, but are slightly less “ideally” healthy than those in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Where do the highest percentage of heart-healthy residents live? Washington, D.C.

Weird. Right?

Given the large low-income population in the nation’s capital, the city’s 6.9 percent heart-healthy population seems to defy conventional wisdom that the poor generally enjoy lesser health.

The AHA also polled for poor cardiovascular health across the country and, while Mainers may report a high ideal health rate, we also report worse-than-average cardiovascular health, with 7.8 percent of the population reporting “poor” health.

Only five states report a larger percentage of poor cardiovascular health, with much of the nation self-reporting better health.

While Vermont has the highest percentage of “ideal” heart health in New England, it does not have the lowest percentage of “poor” health. Connecticut does.

The highest percentage of poor cardiovascular health in the nation was reported in the South, including West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas, with between 12.1 and 16.2 percent of their populations self-reporting poor health.

Maine is doing better than that, but there’s room for improvement.

If we trim off the percentage of Mainers who report “ideal” cardiovascular health and those who report “poor” heart health — the outliers — we are left with 87.7 percent of Mainers somewhere between ideal and poor heart health.

Given that cardiovascular disease is this nation’s most crippling and deadly disease, there’s a real need for that middle percentage of us to pay attention to keeping our hearts healthy.

We realize that, more often than not, New Year’s resolutions are tough to keep. But, if we could collectively resolve to move some of that 87.7 percent among us closer to “ideal” cardiovascular health, not only will Mainers enjoy better quality of life, we’ll reduce health care costs, we’ll contain the cost of lost productivity in our workplaces and we’ll be providing a better example to coming generations.

It sounds ambitious, but it’s not a pipe dream.

The healthy improvements realized in the past 10 years are validation that, with some effort, we can make this happen.

Sun Journal (Dec. 28)

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/12/29/opinion/ringing-in-the-new-year-with-healthier-hearts/ printed on September 23, 2014