Heart-disease deaths in the United States dropped 24 percent from 1980 to 1988, a sign that Americans are eating better, smoking less and receiving better treatment after heart attacks.
Deaths from heart disease in people age 35 and over dropped from 588 per 100,000 people in 1980 to 448 per 100,000 people in 1988, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The death rate declined faster for men than for women, and faster for whites than for African-Americans, the CDC said.
"It's clear that we're preventing the occurrence of heart attacks and lowering mortality," said Dr. Charles Hennekens, a professor of preventive medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "But don't lose sight of the fact that heart disease is still the leading killer in the United States."
Approximately 500,000 Americans died of heart disease in 1989, according to the CDC.
Dr. Hennekens said the proportion of Americans who smoke has gone from more than 50 percent to about 30 percent in the past 30 years, and control of blood pressure and cholesterol have improved markedly. Those factors have helped prevent heart attacks, he said.
And when heart attacks do occur, treatment in the hospital is more effective than it was 30 years ago, Dr. Hennekens added.
Over nine years, overall heart-disease death rates were highest in the Northeast, followed by the Midwest, the South and the West.