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Residents in Southeastern U.S. Have Highest Rates of Preventable Deaths

Making lifestyle changes could help combat diseases like stroke, cancer

Southeastern states are known for humid summers, sweet tea and magnolias—and now a greater risk of dying early from preventable diseases, according to federal health officials.

The top five causes of death—heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke and unintentional injury—accounted for almost two-thirds of all deaths in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 900,000 Americans die prematurely every year from these causes. Residents of eight southern states—Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee—lead the nation with 28 percent to 33 percent of preventable deaths from these diseases.

“This data is yet another demonstration that when it comes to health in this country, your longevity and health are more determined by your ZIP code than they are by your genetic code,” says CDC director Tom Frieden, M.D.

Health officials believe this disparity is because folks living in the Southeast are more likely to have a troubling mix of unhealthy behaviors that raise the risk of premature death, including higher smoking rates, greater obesity rates, lower rates of physical activity and less blood pressure control. “The Southeast has sometimes been referred to as the ‘Stroke Belt,’” Dr. Frieden says. “This report confirms that.”

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This is the first time the CDC has estimated the number of preventable deaths from leading causes of death. For each of the top causes of death, people can reduce risk factors by changing their lifestyle or addressing chronic health issues, including:

Monitoring high blood pressure
Reducing high cholesterol
Better managing blood sugar levels
Quitting smoking
Eating a healthier diet
Losing excess weight
Using sunscreen
Avoiding secondhand smoke exposure, other indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and allergens
Using seat belts and motorcycle helmets
Being more physically active

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