In honor of World Heart Day this week (September 29th), the Israel Heart Society has released new data showing that heart attacks are the second leading cause of death in Israel, following cancer.
The Taub Center recently looked at heart disease and other health conditions, not in terms of mortality alone, but rather to see which conditions take the greatest toll on Israel’s population today in terms of DALYs – Disability-Adjusted Life Years, which take into account years lost to both death and disability.
When calculating the disease burden in Israel in this manner, researchers Liora Bowers and Prof. Dov Chernichovsky found that heart disease is ranked among the top five leading causes of the disease burden in Israel, trailing behind lower back and neck pain while surpassing diabetes, vision and hearing problems, and depression (in that order).
Despite its high ranking, the disease burden from heart disease is notably lower in Israel than in other countries and the burden of heart disease and stroke have decreased by a remarkable 58% between 1990 and 2015, while the burden of diabetes, vision and hearing problems, and depression have increased. This is part of a known international phenomenon attributed to better detection and treatment of heart disease and stroke, and the development of new medications effective at lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. On the other hand, an increase in body mass index (BMI) and in diabetes rates has had the opposite effect, and mitigated the reduction in heart disease that might have otherwise been seen in Israel.
In terms of mortality rates, specifically, Israel has a significantly lower death rate caused by heart disease and stroke than in other European countries, even after accounting for Israel’s relatively younger population. At least part of this discrepancy may be explained by behavioral factors, namely smoking and alcohol and drug use, which are less prevalent among Israelis than among Europeans.
Additionally, Israel has a relatively low mortality rate from diseases that are influenced by physical exercise, including heart disease and certain types of cancer. In another recent study, Prof. Alex Weinreb found a connection between these mortality patterns and mandatory military service. The study found that military service – which is often physically demanding – added more than three years to male life expectancy in Israel. This conclusion is supported by the relatively low mortality rate among Jews in Israel from the aforementioned diseases that are associated with low levels of physical activity. For the most part, Arab Israelis do not serve in the military and, according to data from the Ministry of Health, their rates of diagnosis of heart and vascular diseases are higher than the rates within the Jewish population.
Nonetheless, Israelis should take note that heart disease, stroke and other diseases related to high blood pressure are also strongly affected by diet. Although the Mediterranean diet in Israel – which includes high consumption of vegetables, fruits and legumes – has proven health benefits, Israelis also tend to consume relatively high amounts of sugar, and not enough whole grains. Almost half of Israeli children drink sugar-sweetened beverages every day, rates that are even higher than in the United States. Furthermore, purchasing a healthy food basket is increasingly unaffordable for many Israeli families.
Learn more about heart health and other things you should know about health in Israel – including findings on life expectancy, old age, disease burden, healthcare spending, waiting times for medical procedures, and nutrition – in this short online book.