THURSDAY, Oct. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The percentage of Americans with the nation's number one killer, heart disease, continues to fall, according to new research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall, 6 percent of adults had heart disease in 2010, down from 6.7 percent in 2006. Better treatments for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as declines in smoking, may explain the trend, experts said.
But not everyone is reaping a benefit: less-educated Americans and people living in certain states, such as Kentucky and West Virginia, still have rates of heart disease well above the national average, the CDC said.
According to one expert, much more can and must be done.
"Even larger reductions in prevalence, disability and death can achieved" across the United States with the right outreach and prevention efforts, said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at University of California, Los Angeles, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
The new statistics are published in the Oct. 14 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.
In their study, CDC researchers looked through national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys for 2006 through 2010.
"In over five years, the prevalence of heart disease has decreased significantly," said lead author Dr. Jing Fang, an epidemiologist in CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.
Some of the lowest rates of heart disease were seen among younger people (those under age 65) and people with more than college education. Women tended to have lower rates of heart disease than men, 4.6 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively.
The greatest declines in heart disease over the period were among whites: from 6.4 percent in 2006 to 5.8 percent in 2010. Hispanic Americans also had a significant drop in heart disease -- from 6.9 percent to 6.1 percent over the same time span.
On the other hand, the rate of heart disease rose slightly among blacks, from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. American Indians/Alaska Natives had the highest prevalence of heart disease, at 11.6 percent, the CDC said.
Not surprisingly, the rate of heart disease rose with increasing age. In 2010, almost 20 percent of those aged 65 and older had heart disease, compared with about 7 percent for those 45 to 64 years of age, and just over 1 percent of those aged 18 to 44.
Education seemed to play a key role, as well. Heart disease was more prevalent among people without a high school education (9.2 percent), people with some college education (6.2 percent) and those with more than an undergraduate degree (4.6 percent), according to the report.
Geography also mattered: Just 3.7 percent of people living in Hawaii had heart trouble, compared to 8 percent or more in West Virginia and Kentucky. Overall, your odds of developing heart disease were highest if you lived in the South than in other regions, the researchers noted.
Fonarow, said the new report contains "very important findings."
He noted that despite an increase in obesity and diabetes among Americans, there has been a significant and clinically relevant decline in the prevalence of coronary heart disease among men and women of all age groups and all educational levels.
"This is the direct result of improved detection and treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as smoking-prevention efforts," Fonarow said. "These improvements reflect the tremendous efforts of the American Heart Association, the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] and other organizations to improve the prevention and treatment of heart disease."
For more on heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.