Health & Wellness

Heart Disease Is No Longer Canada’s No. 1 Cause of Death

In wealthy countries, cancer is now a bigger threat than cardiovascular disease

Photo: iStock/verbaska_studio.

While heart disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide for middle-aged adults—accounting for 40% of all deaths—in wealthy countries such as Canada, cancer is twice as deadly. Researchers published the results of two large-scale studies in September in the medical journal The Lancet.

“The world is witnessing a new epidemiologic transition,” lead author Dr. Gilles Dagenais of Quebec’s Laval University said in a statement. “Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26% of all deaths.” If trends remain the same, Dagenais said, cancer stands to become the leading cause of deaths globally “within just a few decades.”

Researchers suggest the change is due to the higher quality of health care in richer countries, where there’s greater access to cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-pressure medicines. The study found the use of cardiovascular medication is “substantially lower” in low-income countries.

According to the two studies, which followed more than 318,000 adults aged 35 to 70 in 21 countries over a median of 9.5 years, deaths from heart disease (conditions such as heart attack, heart failure, angina, and stoke) were found to be 2.5 times higher in low income countries than in high income countries. High income countries analyzed included Canada, Poland, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates. Middle income and low income countries analyzed included Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Turkey, and Zimbabwe.

With data lacking from Australia and some middle eastern and African countries, researchers say more research is needed before the findings can be generalized to all high income and low income countries.

“However, the inclusion of nearly 900 urban and rural communities from multiple countries in different regions of the world provides substantial diversity,” said Dr. Tony Dans of Manila, Philippines. “[It’s likely] the results are more broadly applicable than most previous studies.”