WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14, 2018 (HealthDay News) — The leading cause of death varies with income in the United States, with heart disease still the leading cause of death in low-income counties, according to a study published online Nov. 13 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Using U.S. death records from 2003 to 2015, Katherine G. Hastings, M.P.H., from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and colleagues examined county-level sociodemographic differences in the transition from heart disease to cancer as the leading cause of death in the United States.

The researchers found that heart disease was the leading cause of death in 79 and 59 percent of counties in 2003 and 2015, respectively, while cancer was the leading cause of death in 21 and 41 percent, respectively. The highest-income counties had the greatest shift to cancer as the leading cause of death. From 2003 to 2015, there was a 28 percent decrease overall in heart disease mortality rates (30 and 22 percent in high- and low-income counties, respectively) and a 16 percent decrease in cancer mortality rates (18 and 11 percent in high- and low-income counties, respectively). Heart disease remained the leading cause of death in the lowest-income counties among all racial/ethnic groups.

“Our findings may help inform improved policies, research, and clinical agendas as the United States moves through the epidemiologic transition in chronic disease-related mortality — from heart disease to cancer — in the coming decades,” the authors write.

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