ROCHESTER Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has found heart disease is among the most frequent causes of death in upstate New York. The nonprofit independent health insurance provider issued a report Oct. 23 in which it was found 28.8 percent of all deaths from 2003-05 in five upstate regions were caused by heart disease, followed second by cancer, which was attributed to 23.3 percent of upstate deaths. The findings coincide with a recently updated report Excellus BlueCross BlueShield conducted on the concentration and consumption of health care dollars, which identifies heart disease and cancer as the two most expensive health conditions, representing 16.9 percent of all direct health care spending in the United States. That report noted the most common actual causes of death are tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity. This new report reinforces the reality that lifestyle choices directly influence regional mortality rates, said Martin Lustick, M.D., senior vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. According to the report, heart disease was the cause of 40,594 deaths out of a total of 141,155 deaths; cancer followed in second at 32,880 and stroke was third, attributed to 8,412 deaths. While cancer has predominantly been linked to the number two cause of deaths upstate, cancer, it is also a contributing factor to heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. Faith Osborne-Long, regional director of the American Heart Association, said the figures relating to heart disease and stroke were consistent with AHA research, stating the two are also respectively considered the number one and number three causes of death nationwide. Many adults know that heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability for men, but are not aware that this is true for women also, said Osborne-Long. This has led to the AHAs Go Red for Women campaign to empower and inform women through grassroots educational events. The strategic goal of the AHA, she continued, is to reduce or eliminate deaths from cardiovascular diseases heart disease and stroke by 25 percent by the year 2010. Early in 2008, the heart disease goal was achieved, and the stroke goal is within a few percentages of also being achieved. These milestones, said Osborne-Long, may be attributed to research and development of lifesaving procedures and drugs, advocacy to pass laws at the state and federal levels, and education about risks and causes of cardiovascular diseases such as the Go Red for Womenand Power to End Stroke campaigns. AHA programs such as Start! Walking, which promotes walking as regular exercise, and Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart, two school-based programs which target childhood obesity and health concerns, are also attributed with promoting healthy lifestyle changes, she said. By understanding how health statistics compare across our upstate communities and with statewide and national averages, we can identify opportunities to improve health outcomes through community education and prevention efforts, said Lustick. This new report is the latest in an ongoing series of fact sheets about a wide variety of health issues including asthma, smoking, obesity, diabetes, alcohol use and abuse, and oral health, to name a few. The full library of reports and fact sheets, including the Causes of Death fact sheet, the Concentration and Consumption of Health Care Dollars fact sheet, and the Smoking in Upstate New York fact sheet, is available by going on-line to www.excellusbcbs.com and clicking on Policy and Research at the bottom of the page. For more information about heart disease and stroke, visit the AHA Web site at www.americanheart.org.