Health literacy and prevalence of stroke: interpreting a CDC report

Todd Vandenbark

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” while the fewer U.S. adults are dying of strokes, the total number of strokes occurring has remained relatively the same. And stroke is more prevalent among certain groups: “older adults, blacks, American Indians/Alaska Natives, persons with lower levels of education, and persons living in the southeastern United States.”

The figure above shows age-adjusted prevalence of stroke among noninstitutional¬ized adults aged ≥18 years, by state, in the United States during 2010, based on data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. In 2010, the states with higher stroke prevalence generally were states in the southeastern United States and Nevada.

According to Dr. Jing Fang, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, the increased prevalence is largely due to lifestyle factors including obesity, high blood pressure and smoking. This report also notes that caring for stroke survivors cost our economy an estimated $18.8 billion during 2008, plus an extra $15.5 billion due to lost productivity and premature mortality.

Since higher education levels show a decreased prevalence of stroke in this report, it seems only natural to assume that health education and outreach would help combat this. As reported in a previous post, the  El Paso County Public Health department has partnered with Harrison High School to integrate health literacy education into classes beyond the traditional physical education and health offerings. If programs such as this were implemented nationwide, it could help reduce the incidence of stroke and other preventable causes of long-term disability. Such outreach efforts would probably more than pay for themselves in the long run.

What outreach efforts to improve health outcomes for U.S. citizens do you think should be better funded? Tell us!