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Region worst in U.S. for heart attacks

Jul. 29, 2013 @ 11:10 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Richard Cline's habits finally caught up with him.

The former Wahama High School health teacher and husband of a registered nurse said he should've listened to his doctor 25 years ago when told to lose weight and to exercise to avoid compounding health problems later in life.

"I should've practiced what I preached," said Cline, 66. "I don't know why I didn't listen. I guess because I hadn't had any problems up to that point, and I thought it wasn't going to happen to me."

After struggling with diabetes and a bout with cancer four years ago, Cline suffered a heart attack recently. Cline is representative of the statistics presented in a recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showing the Huntington-Ashland-Ironton metropolitan area among the worst in the nation for incidence of heart attack.

The lowest Well-Being Index scores in 2012 included the Tri-State area and Charleston; of the three million adult residents living in these areas and the seven others who rounded out the bottom 10, about 161,000 have experienced a heart attack. That's an average of 5.5 percent of Americans living in one of the metro areas.

Gallup-Healthways survey results are obtained using a random sample of adults in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

If these cities experienced the same rate of heart attacks found in the healthiest 10 metro areas, including Lincoln, Neb., and Boulder, Colo., nearly 80,000 fewer residents would be heart attack victims, according to survey results.

"There are modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors for heart attack," said Dr. Mark Studeny, director of the cath lab at St. Mary's Medical Center. "Non-modifiable risk factors would be a family history or being a male. Modifiable risk factors include hypertension, obesity, diabetes, smoking, and people have many of those modifiable risk factors in this part of the country.

"Being overweight is probably, in this community, contributing most to the high risk of heart attack."

Numbers obtained by Gallup, however, indicate some of the health woes in the community might be reversing slightly. The incidence of diabetes dropped from 19.9 percent to 14.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 and positive shifts in exercise frequency, eating healthy products and overall city optimism grew by 3 percentage points in each category.

"We're trying to educate the public about changing some of their ways, and we hope that'll help us fall from being No. 1 in the country in the heart attack category," Studeny said. "Unfortunately, probably one of the biggest motivators to changing diet and smoking is actually having a heart attack. It's difficult to get people to change."

For Cline, a self-described "meat and potatoes man," managing portion sizes has been his biggest challenge.

"Old habits are hard to give up, and until you have a heart attack or medical problems, you don't think it's a problem. I don't think people will be inspired to change until it happens to them," he said. "It's been a lifestyle change and education. I'm lucky and blessed to be getting a third chance. They say the third time's the charm."

Studeny said taking a more proactive approach to health care could serve to lessen heart disease risk.

"I believe if our population paid more attention to their symptoms and those with a strong family history of risk factors would get screened for atherosclerosis, they would be more motivated to care for themselves," he offered.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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