Special Report

Cities With the Lowest Risk of Heart Attack

16. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX
> Pct. who have had a heart attack: 2.3% (tied)
> Obesity rate: 40.2%
> Smoking rate: 14.9%
> Median household income: $35,730

The incidence of heart attack in McAllen-Edinburg-Mission is one of the lowest in the nation, with 2.3% of adults reporting they have experienced a heart attack in their lifetime. McAllen area residents also report a relatively low level of excessive drinking, at 14.4% of adults, and a relatively low adult smoking rate of 14.9%.

Compared with other cities where relatively few people have heart attacks, however, the McAllen area is otherwise somewhat unique. Being obese can raise blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart attack, and therefore most cities with low heart attack rates have low obesity rates. Yet, in McAllen, more than 40% of people are obese, nearly the highest obesity rate in the nation. Also, while financial prosperity is usually closely tied to cardiovascular health and good health in general, McAllen residents are not especially wealthy. Nearly one in three people live in poverty, double the national poverty rate.

Ventura County, California
Source: Thinkstock

15. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
> Pct. who have had a heart attack: 2.3% (tied)
> Obesity rate: 23.9%
> Smoking rate: 11.2%
> Median household income: $80,032

Just 2.3% of adults living in the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura metropolitan area have experienced a heart attack in their lifetimes. The California area’s residents are healthy by other measures as well. They have lower than typical rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and the extremely low rate of heart attacks likely helps explain the metropolitan area’s extremely low rate of premature death. Just 233 of every 100,000 residents die before the age of 75 from preventable causes, less than half the rate of most major metropolitan areas.

Jackson Mississippi Skyline
Source: Thinkstock

14. Jackson, MS
> Pct. who have had a heart attack: 2.3% (tied)
> Obesity rate: 30.4%
> Smoking rate: 19.5%
> Median household income: $46,757

Jackson has one of the lowest shares of adults who have experienced a heart attack in their lifetimes. However, the Mississippi capital does not fit the usual profile of a metropolitan area with an extremely low incidence of heart attacks. For example, 35% of adults report high blood pressure — a risk factor for heart disease — higher than most metropolitan areas. Also, slightly more than 30% of Jackson’s adults are obese, worse than the majority of major metropolitan areas.

Social and economic conditions such as poverty are tied to health conditions such as diabetes and obesity, as well as heart disease. Jackson is also unusual among metropolitan areas with a relatively small share of adults who have had heart attacks in that it is a relatively poor place. The city’s 19.4% poverty rate is well above the national rate of 14.7%.

San Diego, California
Source: Thinkstock

13. San Diego-Carlsbad, CA
> Pct. who have had a heart attack: 2.2%
> Obesity rate: 22.3%
> Smoking rate: 11.8%
> Median household income: $67,320

Predisposition for heart disease can be genetic, but a number of healthy behaviors can help reduce the risk of a heart attack. The population of San Diego, which has one of the lowest heart attack rates in the country, is less likely to engage in unhealthy behavior. The area’s population reports among the lowest shares of smoking, obesity, and sedentary lifestyles, which are all risk factors heart disease.

Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in the United States, and with a low heart attack rate pointing to generally better heart health among residents, San Diego residents unsurprisingly are more likely to live full lives than those in most metropolitan areas. Just 255 out of every 100,000 area residents die due to preventable causes before the age of 75, much lower than the national rate of 474 premature deaths per 100,000 people.