Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Fighting heart disease: Are we still winning?

Coronary artery disease causes heart attacks, angina, and many cases of heart failure and sudden death. Because these illnesses are so prevalent in the U.S. today, many people assume that coronary artery disease is an inevitable consequence of human biology, particularly for men. That's wrong; in fact, at least eight of every 10 cases are preventable.

As recently as 1900, heart attacks were uncommon. But in the first decades of the 20th century, they began to increase. By 1921, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S., and it has retained that dubious distinction ever since.

What accounts for America's heart disease epidemic? Human biology has not changed, but human behavior has. The epidemic coincides with the mass production and aggressive marketing of cigarettes; the change from fresh and homemade foods to highly refined, high-salt, high-caloric foods; and the introduction of labor-saving innovations that have turned us into a sedentary society.

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