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Wednesday, February 16, 2000
Contact: Kathryn Harben
CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention
& Health Promotion
(770) 4885131
CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 6393286
Bill Case
West Virginia University
(304) 2931410

First atlas of geographic and racial and ethnic disparities in U.S. women's heart disease death rates released

A woman's risk of dying from heart disease depends in part on where she lives, according to new maps of heart disease death rates among U.S. women 35 and older. Women and Heart Disease: An Atlas of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mortality, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and West Virginia University (WVU), also highlights persistent inequalities among women of the five major racial and ethnic groups.

"Contrary to what many people believe, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women," said David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., U.S. Surgeon General. "This atlas provides a valuable sense of perspective about the threat that heart disease poses to our mothers, our wives, and our sisters." Approximately 370,000 American women of all races and ethnic groups die from heart disease each year.

Maps in the atlas show that women who live in parts of the rural South, including the Mississippi Delta and Appalachian regions, have dramatically higher rates of heart disease death than women living in most parts of the western United States and upper Midwest. Women in most major cities had low to moderate heart disease death rates, except for New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and New Orleans. Women living in those cities had high heart disease death rates compared with most of the rest of the country.

Counties with the lowest death rates for women were in the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountain areas of Colorado and New Mexico, and parts of Wisconsin, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The atlas also reports that African American women were at much greater risk of dying from heart disease compared with women of other major racial and ethnic groups.

The death rate from heart disease in African American women was 553 deaths per 100,000 population, followed by white women (388 deaths per 100,000 population), American Indian and Alaska Native women (259 per 100,000), and Asian and Pacific Islander women (221 per 100,000). The death rate for Hispanic women of all races was 265 per 100,000.

"This landmark document supports the President's Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and identifies the key places where women of each of the five major racial and ethnic groups are most likely to die from heart disease," said James S. Marks, M.D., M.P.H., director, CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The first national atlas of heart disease death rates among women includes more than 200 national and state maps showing geographic patterns in heart disease death rates for the years 1991-1995. Maps depicting the risk of heart disease death for all women, African American women, American Indian and Alaska Native women, Asian and Pacific Islander women, Hispanic women, and white women are also included. Maps of local economic resources, social isolation of older women, and availability of medical care provide important information about the underlying community characteristics that can influence the opportunities women have to live heart-healthy lives.

"West Virginia University is pleased to partner with CDC in providing the atlas to health authorities nationwide to use in developing heart-health programs and policies targeted to communities in need," said David C. Hardesty, Jr., M.A., J.D., president, WVU. "This will be a particularly valuable tool in our state and in other areas of Appalachia with high rates of heart disease."

Other partners are taking steps to get the atlas into the hands of health officials and community groups who can use it to improve women's heart health in their counties.

"The American Heart Association has long worked to raise awareness that there is an epidemic of heart disease in women and enthusiastically endorses this atlas as a resource for tackling the problem at the local level," said Lynn Smaha, M.D., Ph.D., president of the American Heart Association. "The American Heart Association's extensive network of professional medical volunteers in all 50 states will work with state departments of health to disseminate heart health information to women throughout the country," he added.

Additional information about the atlas, including a downloadable version of the report, are available online at: and

See also...
    Facts About Heart Disease Among U.S. Women

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This page last reviewed Wednesday, February 16, 2000

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention