Heart disease forecast: Gloomy, with boom time ahead


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

As a youngster, I loved being part of the baby boom—it meant there were dozens of kids on my block who were ready to play hide-and-seek or join mysterious clubs. Now that I’m of an AARP age, there’s one club I don’t want to join: the one whose members have bypass scars, pacemakers, or other trappings of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association’s gloomy new forecast on cardiovascular disease tells me it won’t be easy to avoid.

The AHA foresees sizeable increases in all forms of cardiovascular disease (see table) between now and 2030, the year all of the boomers are age 65 and older. Those increases will translate into an additional 27 million people with high blood pressure, 8 million with coronary heart disease, 4 million with stroke, and 3 million with heart failure. That will push the number of adult Americans with some form of heart disease to 110 million.

AHA cardiovascular disease forecast

Percentages refer to the percentage of Americans aged 18 years and older.

If the AHA’s projections are accurate, the cost of treating cardiovascular disease would balloon from $272 billion today to $818 billion in 2030; add in the cost of lost productivity, and it jumps to more than $1 trillion. Yikes!

Although obesity and inactivity are part of the problem, much of the increase comes from the graying of the baby boom.

We can’t stop boomers from aging, but we can fight cardiovascular disease, a condition the AHA calls “largely preventable.” As I described in an article on the top five habits that harm the heart in the Harvard Heart Letter, healthy habits protect the heart (and the rest of the body). In a long-term study of thousands of female nurses, those who followed five healthy habits (not smoking, maintaining healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and having less than one alcoholic drink a day) were a whopping 83% less likely to have had a heart attack or to have died of heart disease over the 14-year study period compared with all the other women in the study. Similar reductions were seen in a study of men.

So, fellow boomers: Let’s pick up the pace of our personal prevention efforts and prove the AHA number-crunchers wrong!


  1. ClearCare

    The report is indeed gloomy. It may seem pessimistic but that gives us a precautionary glimpse into the future where most Americans suffer from various types of cardiovascular diseases. Given the precarious economic situation today and probably in the near future, one could not help but wonder if the American economy can sustain such burgeoning healthcare costs. Well, seniors (and would-be seniors) should start doing some physical activities. Physical inactivity can only add up to your health woes. Nursing homes for the aged ones have regular and specific workout regimen for the elderly. This should also apply to those who chose home care. A good home care solution should incorporate the need to bring out the old folks regularly to bathe in the warm sunshine. I guess every American should add exercise into their survival health kit.
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  2. Francois

    I wonder how would it impact the entire healthcare cost if too many people have cardiovascular diseases….

  3. Michael Berry

    It is certainly scary to think of all the problems that boomers will have. I see a lot of 30-40s people out exercising but see few in there late 50s,70s. I do see lots of older adults out taking a dog for a walk or just going for a stroll with a friend but they are often moving so slow or stopping to chat so often that their exercise benefit is minimal. Community groups, national health incentives and seniors group training are certainly making some headway but really need more promotion.

  4. Nick Pokoluk

    Your take on Caldwell Esselstyn’s approach to preventing heart disease? How about no nuts or added oils – even canola!!! I have spoken to him on a few occasions and he makes a compelling case for his approach.

  5. Vince

    As a personal trainer I can confirm that physical inactivity is often neglected as one of the risk factors in heart disease. But along with smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity, physical inactivity can be just as harmful to the body.

    When exercising, remember you only have to take it regularly. Not seriously.

    Significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount of physical activity (i.e. 30 minutes of brisk walking or raking leaves, 15 minutes of running, or 45 minutes of playing volleyball) on most, if not all, days of the week. You can do these 30 minutes all in one go, or break it up into shorter sessions and you will get similar benefits!

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