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Lead Exposure Has Killed More People In The US Than UK – Report

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Toxins in the environment, like lead, smoking, secondhand smoke, and air pollution, can contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and to deaths. Also, being exposed to toxins over and over again has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries.

Preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 indicates that lead exposure has been more of a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease (CVD) deaths in the U.S. than in the U.K., while the U.S. has actually performed better in terms of CVD death risks linked to particulate matter when compared to the U.K. 

Researchers used the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study to find out how many people died from cardiovascular disease in both countries over the past 30 years. This added up to 33 million deaths. Based on how much people were exposed to four risk factors—lead, particulate matter, secondhand smoke, and smoking—researchers figured out how many deaths from cardiovascular disease were linked to these four risk factors during those 30 years.

According to the results:

  • In comparison to the United Kingdom, which had a risk-attributable cardiovascular death rate of 1.4% over the course of 30 years, the United States had a higher rate of 2.4%.
  • In contrast, during the same 30-year period, the United Kingdom experienced a higher percentage of cardiovascular mortality linked to particulate matter exposure (6.5%), compared to the United States (5.0%).
  • Over the course of 30 years, there were no appreciable differences in cardiovascular deaths between the nations for those who smoked and those who were exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Smoking continues to be the leading risk factor for cardiovascular death in both the United States and the United Kingdom, followed by particulate matter, as it did in 1990. Lead and secondhand smoke came next in the United States, followed by lead and secondhand smoke in the United Kingdom.

Because these nations have similar public health policies to improve preventative care and environmental rules to lessen exposure to pollutants, Titus said, “we expected that there would be no difference between these countries. 

“In the U.S., lead exposure is still high, which most often comes from paint, drinking water, plumbing and dust in old houses, while exposure to particulate matter has significantly reduced in the past 30 years. 

“The United States is not as densely populated as the United Kingdom and that could also explain the higher secondhand smoking risk in the U.K. In the past 30 years, about 20% of people who died from cardiovascular disease in the U.S. and the U.K. were smokers.”

The researchers found that over the course of 30 years, cardiovascular mortality linked to all four environmental factors—lead, smoking, secondhand smoke, and air pollution—decreased steadily in both countries.

“Our study revealed that we are still tackling the beast. Patient counselling by physicians and cardiologists is required to educate patients regarding these four environmental factors linked to cardiovascular disease,” Titus added. “More research on how environmental risk factors impact our daily lives is needed to help policymakers, public health experts, and communities see the big picture. Better anti-smoking campaigns need to be developed as well as changes that move us away from fossil fuels.”

While this study does not prove a direct link between environmental pollutants and the risk of cardiovascular death, Titus noticed that there is a difference in cardiovascular mortality in these geographically different but demographically similar countries.

Image Credit: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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