Eastern Europeans Six Times More Likely to Die From Heart Disease Than in West

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is Europe's biggest killer, but latest data reveals that people in Eastern Europe are far more likely to succumb to diseases of the heart and blood vessel than their Western European counterparts.

In the latest available figures published on Wednesday in the European Heart Journal, researchers found a huge disparity in mortality rates from CVD between the Western and Eastern halves of the continent. Eight European countries have CVD death rates of less than 250 per 100,000 women—including France, Spain and the U.K— while death rates of more than 1,000 per 100,000 women are found in six countries, all of which are in Eastern Europe. A woman in France' where the mortality rate was just 174.1 per 100,000, is six times less likely to die from CVD than a Ukrainian woman, where the rate stands at 1,065.8 per 100,000.

The results were similar for men, where three European countries having death rates of less than 300 per 100,000 men—France, Spain and Israel. In Ukraine, the rate for men is 1,544.9 per 100,000, more than five times as high. Researchers also found that Eastern Europeans were far more likely to die prematurely from CVD than westerners.

Nick Townsend, the lead researcher and a senior researcher at the University of Oxford, says that the disparity is likely due to a number of factors, including inequality in access to healthy foods and quality of medical treatment. "Generally, what we find is that the good healthy food is too expensive and, certainly in Eastern European countries, it is very difficult for them to grow a selection of fruit and vegetables and so they are reliant on imported food," says Townsend. "When you look at Eastern European countries, what generally seems to be reported are things like lower expenditure on healthcare per head of population and greater [socio-economic] inequalities within the Eastern European countries themselves."

Overall, CVD mortality rates across Europe are in decline, which Townsend says is due to concentrated public health efforts to improve lifestyle choices—by cutting down on smoking, for example—and better surgical interventions and drugs for treatment of CVD. He adds that smoking and binge-drinking are more prevalent in Eastern European countries, potentially contributing to higher CVD death rates.

According to the annual report, CVD kills more than four million Europeans every year, making it the continent's biggest killer. Coronary heart disease, one of the major forms of CVD, is responsible for 20 percent of female deaths in Europe each year, 10 times more than breast cancer. The 2014 European Heart Journal report found that CVD rates were being cut in some countries to the point where cancer was overtaking CVD as the biggest killer. However, the 2014 report also highlighted the discrepancies with regard to Eastern Europe, where CVD mortality rates were generally much higher.

The research defines Europe as the 53 member states of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) European region, which means that outlying states such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are included. The researchers also note difficulties in making comparisons between certain countries due to the lack of recent data. For example, the last available figures from Albania are from 2004, while for Turkmenistan the most recent data is from 1998.