Heart attacks kill a higher percentage of people in Niagara and Erie counties than anywhere else in New York State, according to the Niagara County Healthy Heart Program and the state Health Department.
Ischemic heart disease -- commonly called a heart attack -- kills 353 of every 100,000 residents of Niagara County and 342 of every 100,000 residents of Erie County, according to recent statistics.
For comparative purposes, the statistics are adjusted according to age. Because of the distribution of elderly people, the adjusted statistics place the number of heart attack deaths at 262.5 for every 100,000 residents in Niagara County and 250 per 100,000 in Erie County.
"We have a disease situation that we need to get control over," said Sally Baldwin, program director of the Niagara County Healthy Heart Program. "We have a high risk factor and we have to do something about it. The state recognizes we have a problem."
Among other Western New York counties, the adjusted figures place Allegany County's heart-attack deaths at 48th in the state; Cattaraugus 18th, Chautauqua 19th, Genesee 21st, Orleans 38th and Wyoming 26th. The figures are for 1987, the last year for which statistics are available.
Niagara County is the only one in Western New York which has a Healthy Heart Program. Miss Baldwin said the most frequent causes of heart attacks are smoking, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and obesity.
"People on the lower end of the economic scale tend to have more risk problems," she said. "To prevent the disease, residents have to change their living and eating habits.
"When people change their lifestyles, their health could improve within a few months. People who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol have seen significant changes in as little as three months."
The Niagara County Healthy Heart Program is a community intervention and education project funded by the state Health Department for the next five years in an effort to reduce heart disease. It is sponsored locally by the Niagara Falls Chapter of the American Red Cross, Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Niagara County, the Niagara County Unit of the American Cancer Society and the Niagara County Health Department.