New report highlights the huge divide on heart disease


A new report produced by the Heart Foundation has found a strong relationship between where a person lives and the risk of heart disease.

The foundation's new Australian Heart Maps report, which has been released today, has found death from heart disease is more than 50 per cent higher for people in very remote locations compared to those in capital cities.

"Regional and rural areas dominate the nation’s death and hospitalisation hotspots," said the Heart Foundation.

The report found 'red flags' for heart disease, including high rates of obesity, lack of exercise and high blood pressure are worse in regional Australia.

Where a location sits in terms of socioeconomic standing is also linked to the prevalence of heart disease.

When compared to the most privileged areas, Australians living in the most disadvantaged areas are nearly twice as likely to be hospitalised for a heart attack. Their obesity and heart disease death rates are more than 50 per cent higher than those in the highest socio-economic group.

Heart Foundation Group CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly said the maps highlight the gap that persists between affluent city communities and less advantaged rural areas.

In the remote areas of the Northern Territory, the rate of death from heart disease is almost 2.5 times higher than in the suburbs of northern Sydney.

“The results show there’s a great divide in heart health across some communities, and people in regional, rural and remote areas are faring worse than big-city dwellers,” said Professor Kelly.

“It’s no coincidence that regions with the highest rates of heart disease are also the ones likely to be the most disadvantaged areas. Unsurprisingly, we are also seeing alarming rates of risk factors in these hotspots, which has huge implications for residents’ future heart health.”

Death rates also vary greatly across the states and territories. The Northern Territory has the highest rate of heart disease - 90 heart disease deaths out of every 100,000 people compared to 54 in the ACT.

Tasmania and Queensland rank second and third after the Northern Territory, each with heart disease death rates well above the national average. Fifteen of the worst hotspots are in Queensland or New South Wales.

Sixteen of the 20 regions with the highest heart disease death rates are in regional and rural Australia. On the other end, 17 of the 20 regions with the lowest death rates are in urban areas.

There is a similar city-country divide for heart disease hospitalisations - eight of the 10 worst-affected areas are across regional or rural parts of the country.

Risk factor hotspots are almost exclusively in the regions, where obesity, smoking, high blood pressure and low levels of physical activity are a significant problem.

More than one in three Tasmanians (33.6 per cent) is obese – the largest proportion of any state or territory.

All top 10 obesity hotspots are in regional or rural locations.

Queensland and New South Wales are home to nine of the 10 least active places.

“These maps illustrate which parts of the country are in the greatest need of heart health services and investment, and we urge governments at all levels to step up measures to turn these statistics around. All Australians should be able to live a full and healthy life, no matter where they live,” said Professor Kelly.

“We also implore everyone to take action to protect their heart health – if you’re 45 and over, or from age 30 if you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, talk to your GP about having a Heart Health Check.”