U.S. counties hit hardest by the recession of 2008-2009 had a larger increase in heart disease deaths among middle-aged adults than other counties, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed 2010 to 2015 heart disease death rates among adults ages 25 to 64, as well as economic markers such as income, access to housing and levels of education.
Heart disease death rates remained fairly stable in counties with the least economic distress (62.6 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010; 61.5 in 2015). But those areas with worsening economic conditions - such as high unemployment, lower median incomes and lack of affordable housing - showed a rise, from 122 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2010 to 127.6 deaths in 2015.
"Our study shows that large economic trends - whether it's a significant reduction in employment or a recession - have a real impact on communities and on the cardiovascular health of people living in those communities," said lead author Dr. Sameed Khatana, a cardiovascular medicine fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
The study was presented on Monday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Philadelphia. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The findings highlight how economic disparities contribute directly to health disparities in the United States, according to the researchers.
"It's important that policymakers, physicians and even patients are aware of this increase in mortality rates. Interventions, such as policies like a health insurance expansion, may help slow this trend or even reverse it," Khatana said in a Penn news release.
Though U.S. heart disease death rates fell sharply for 50 years, they have changed little since 2011 and are on the rise among some middle-aged adults, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
It was known that recovery from the recession was uneven, but it wasn't clear whether economic factors contribute to varying heart disease death rates in communities nationwide.
"We found that it's not a uniform increase -- communities experiencing the most economic difficulties are the ones that are hardest hit by heart disease deaths," Khatana said.