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Killing the Number One Killer – Part I in a Series: The Leading cause of death in the United States

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This is the first of a four-part series on the leading cause of death in both USA and Marion County, FL. I’ll start by posing some questions.

Q: What is the # 1 cause of premature death among men and women in the United States and Marion County?

A: It is heart disease.  Heart disease is a term that refers to several diseases that afflict the heart. Atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, and by far the main cause of death in the United States (CDC, 2021). Atherosclerosis refers to the “hardening” and obstruction of the arteries due to plaque build up. Plaque is made up of deposits of “bad” LDL cholesterol.


Atherosclerosis (Plaque Buildup): How It can Lead to a Heart Attack
Credit: Rasi Bhadramani /iStock /Getty Images

Q: How many people die each year due to heart disease?

A: For the US: About 659,000 people, (CDC, 2021).  In Marion County, FL: Around 6,513 people from 2013 – 2017.  Shockingly, the afflicted start dying by age 18 (Well Florida Council, 2019). Isn’t that a lot!?  A personal aside: I lost my paternal grandfather to heart disease when he suffered a sudden heart attack.  His death was devastating for my dad and the entire family. We can, however, avoid such tragic family stories simply by transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. Heart disease cost the U.S. government and we taxpayers around $ 363 billion dollars each year, according to CDC figures for 2016 and 2017 (CDC, 2021).



By this point, I imagine you’re wondering what causes heart disease and how we can prevent it.  Actually, there are behavioral and health factors that might put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

The behavior factors are:

  • smoking,
  • lack of physical activity,
  • poor diet, and
  • being overweight or obese


And the health factors are:

  • high cholesterol,
  • high blood pressure,
  • and having diabetes

Figure 2: Seven ways to prevent heart disease.
Credit: American Heart Association, retrieved from Virani, et., at.

These factors are represented in the illustration below. By understanding and gaining better control of each of these seven factors, your risk of developing heart disease will DROP!

Keep a balanced diet: The most powerful contributor to atherosclerosis, the hardening and obstructions of your arteries, is “bad” cholesterol. (My next post will dive deeper into cholesterol and fats. Stay tuned! Subscribe here.

Achieve a more healthful body weight: There is a direct relationship between your weight and your health. Click here to calculate your body mass index (BMI) and find out if you are in a weight category that may lead to health problems.

Become more physically active: Here are a list of Marion County, FL parks you can visit to increase your physical activity, and, at the same time, enjoy the bounty of nature in the area…

Do you Smoke? Smoking increase the build up of plaque learn more here. Click to quit here.

When was the last time you had your blood pressure measured? What are your cholesterol levels? Schedule a test. A combination of low HDL “good” cholesterol, with high LDL “bad” cholesterol + high triglycerides (a type of fat) increases your risk of heart disease.

Manage your diabetes: High blood sugar can damage the vessels and nerves in your heart. To find a diabetes education program in your area, click here.



Now that you know your risk factors, don’t you agree WE CAN control most, if not all of them? Can we agree that heart disease is mostly a lifestyle disease? There are some exceptions, since some individuals are born with the condition (CDC, n.a.). By looking at the above image, you can see that if we have a balanced diet, we will control at least four other factors –– namely weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and diabetes.  Building a healthful meal is the most powerful prevention tool against heart disease. (To learn more about preventive nutrition, please follow this blog to see my next posts.)

Now, wait, what about genetics? Well, even if you do carry a genetic predisposition to develop a chronic disease, your lifestyle will ultimately determine whether such genes will be expressed, meaning activated. As an anonymous author said long ago, “Genetics loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”


  TAKE AWAY: We can “kill the number one killer” simply by adhering lifestyle changes. We can change the statistics, and it starts in our kitchens and can be seen on our plates. Good nutrition will decrease most of the risk factors associated to the development of heart disease. Genetics does not dictate our future, and we, as part of a human species, were designed to age healthily and free of chronic diseases.

REFLECTIONS: What am I going to do differently from now on? Please share on the comment below any small steps are you going to take to decrease your heart disease risk.  By doing this, you are also inspiring other readers!

COMING NEXT: Killing the # 1 Killer Series – Part 2: From your plate to your heart – understanding unsaturated fats. To get notified about the next posts, please subscribe here.


Thanks for reading, and here’s to better health!

Rebecca Elliott




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Heart Disease facts. Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.a.). Know the facts about heart disease. Retrieved from

Virani, S. S., Alonso, A., Aparicio, H. J,, Benjamin, E. J., Bittencourt, M. S., Callaway, C. W., et al. (2021, January). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2021 update: a report from the American Heart Association external iconCirculation, 143: e254–e743.

Well Florida Council. (2019).  2019 Marion County Community Health Assessment, Page 660. Retrieved from

2 Comments on “Killing the Number One Killer – Part I in a Series: The Leading cause of death in the United States

  1. Thanks for this info! I don’t smoke, but I can see I probably need to improve my diet. My pops died of heart disease last year!

    • Hello Lamont,
      Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry about your father. Improving your diet is a crucial step to preventing heart disease. Please subscribe to receive notifications on my next posts about diet and heart disease prevention.

      All the best,

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