Cancer, heart disease, stroke deaths plunge to 50-year low

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Death rates from cancer, heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases that lead to strokes are at their lowest levels in more than half a century, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said earlier this week.

The nationwide survey of the three main causes of death is conducted every five years. The rates are calculated per 100,000 people in different age groups living in each prefecture.

Cancer was the No. 1 killer. Among men, the national rate was 182.4 out of 100,000 people, a 15.3 point drop compared with 2005. The rate among women was 92.2 out of 100,000, a 5.1 point drop.

For heart disease, the mortality rate was 74.2 per 100,000 among men and 39.7 for women. For cerebrovascular diseases, the rates were 49.5 for men and 26.9 for women.

These figures were the lowest since 1960, when the ministry began measuring death rates for the three diseases.

“A variety of factors are believed to contribute to the lower mortality rates, including a change in lifestyles, a drop in the number of smokers, advanced public health policies and more information about health issues,” a ministry spokeswoman said.

By prefecture, among men, death from cancer was lowest in Nagano, Okinawa and Fukui, and highest in Aomori, Akita and Hokkaido. For women, the lowest cancer rates were in Yamagata, Nagano and Oita, and the highest in Aomori, Osaka and Hokkaido.

The lowest rates of heart disease among men were in Fukuoka, Nagano and Toyama, and the highest rates were in Aomori, Ehime and Fukushima. For women, the lowest heart disease rates were in Fukuoka, Toyama and Nagano, and the highest were in Ehime, Nara and Saitama.

For cerebrovascular diseases, the lowest rates among men were to be found in Kagawa, Nara and Kyoto. The highest rates were in Iwate, Aomori and Akita. The lowest rates among women were recorded in Kagawa, Nara and Osaka, and the highest in Iwate, Tochigi and Aomori.

In the Tohoku region, foods with a high salt content are believed to be a major reason why prefectures like Aomori have higher than average mortality rates.

Yoshikiyo Kobayashi, an official with the health and seniors division in Nagano Prefecture, said there were a number of social and administrative factors for Nagano’s low rates, particularly for cancer and heart disease.

“The rate of fruit and vegetable consumption in Nagano is the highest in the nation, while administratively we have lots of people doing volunteer health work in towns and villages, educating people on nutrition,” Kobayashi said.