Health disparities in Appalachia: Factors influencing high heart disease rates across rural Virginia

People living in Appalachia see higher rates of heart disease, and death rates from heart disease.

VIRGINIA – February is Heart Health Month.

People living in rural areas, including here in Southwest Virginia, have a higher incidence rate of heart disease.

It’s an issue all across Appalachia.

Not only are incidents of heart disease higher in Appalachia compared to the rest of the US, but there are also higher rates within rural areas versus more metro areas in these states. That includes Virginia.

[SEE IT: View an interactive map of heart disease, stroke and more here]

“There is clear evidence and statistics suggesting that the incidents of heart disease are higher in rural areas which includes Appalachian areas, Southwest Virginia has higher incidents on average of about 17 percent risk of death from heart disease in these regions. One of the reasons is lack of access to a healthy diet, lack of access to health care facilities nearby,” said Carilion Cath Lab Medical Director and Cardiologist, Dr. Mirza.

Access to care, preventative health resources and healthy foods are problems across much of our rural areas.

See heart disease death rates in Virginia by county here.

Statistics shared by Dr. Mirza are also laid out in a report by the Appalachian Regional Commission. According to ARC, the Appalachian Region’s heart disease mortality rate is 17 percent higher than the national rate.

“The regional average masks very high rates within parts of Appalachia. For example, in Central Appalachia, the heart disease mortality rate is 42 percent higher than the national rate, and 80 of the subregion’s 82 counties have heart disease mortality rates higher than the national rate. The heart disease mortality rate for the Appalachian Region’s rural counties is 27 percent higher than the rate for the Region’s large metro counties. The heart disease mortality rate for the Appalachian Region’s distressed counties is 29 percent higher than the rate for the Region’s non-distressed counties,” the report detailed.

There are steps you can take to have a healthy heart.

Dr. Mirza said risk factors for heart disease include smoking, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol use, and physical inactivity. He stressed the importance of routine exercise, eating healthy and managing your weight.

Read more heart health tips from Carilion’s Experts here.

About the Authors

Watch Rachel weekdays during 10 News at 5:30, 6 and 7 p.m.

Alli Graham came aboard the digital team as an evening digital content producer in June 2022.