Heart failure and stroke cases both increased during the time frame, according to the study.
Heart failure cases within 21 years of enlistment rose by 69% — from 0.49 per 1,000 men who had enlisted in the first five years (1971–75) to 0.83 per 1,000 who enlisted in the last five (1991–95). The increase for cerebral infarction cases was 32%, from 0.68 for the first five-year cohort to 0.9 per 1,000 for the last. For cerebral hemorrhage, the rise was 20%, from 0.45 to 0.54 per 1,000.
The number of heart attacks and of deaths from cardiovascular disease actually fell during the study’s timeframe. Heart attacks within 21 years of enlistment fell by 43%, from 1.4 to 0.8 per 1,000, of the cohorts enlisting first and last, respectively. Deaths from all cardiovascular disease decreased by 50%, from 1.5 to 0.74 per 1,000.
Although they sound like the same thing, there is a difference between heart attack and heart failure. According to WebMD, most heart attacks happen suddenly when one of the arteries leading to the heart becomes blocked and cuts off the blood flow. Without oxygen, the heart muscles start to die. Heart failure, on the other hand, usually develops gradually.
“It’s pleasing to see, despite rising obesity, a fairly sharp fall in heart attacks among these younger men, and also their reduced mortality from cardiovascular diseases,” he continues.
Researchers said they believe a sharp fall in smoking is why heart attacks decreased, but that weight kept the number from being even lower.
“We see that heart attacks would have decreased even more if it hadn’t been for the rise in overweight and obesity,” Åberg said. “Our results thus provide strong support for thinking that obesity and, to some extent, low fitness by the age of 18 affect early-onset cardiovascular disease. So at societal level, it’s important to try to get more physical activity, and to have already established good eating habits by adolescence, while being less sedentary.”
The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of Internal Medicine.