Death rates from heart disease and stroke are falling in the United States but heart and artery disease remains the leading cause of death, the American Heart Association said on Monday.
An estimated 869,724 people died from heart disease in 2004, compared to 911,163 in 2003, the Heart Association said.
Cancer was the second-biggest killer, taking 553,888 lives in 2004. Stroke, when considered separately from other cardiovascular diseases, was the third leading killer, taking 150,074 lives.
The group predicts that in 2008, 770,000 people in the United States will have a heart attack and 430,000 will have a recurrent attack. Another 175,000 will have a silent first heart attack.
The group projected that 770,000 people will have a stroke in 2008, about 600,000 for the first time.
"These statistics make it clear that cardiovascular disease remains, by far, our greatest public health challenge," said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of the association's statistics committee.
"Although we have made some substantial strides in understanding the causes of cardiovascular disease, the data in this publication show that we have a long way to go to capture people's attention and to implement the prevention and treatment programs we need," added Lloyd-Jones, who works at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Not enough fruits, veggies
A growing number of Americans are overweight and obese, the heart association said in its latest statistics release.
Only 21.4 percent of male high school students and 18.7 percent of females said they ate at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables — the minimum recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke.
More than 46 million Americans smoke daily and about 4,000 teenagers aged 12 to 17 begin smoking every day.