Here's a heart-stopping reality - more people suffer from heart attacks in the Buffalo Niagara region than in most other major metropolitan areas in the country.
The region ranked 16th-worst among 190 communities for reported incidents of heart attacks, according to a recently released Gallup survey report.
Six percent of Buffalo Niagara residents reported having a heart attack, according to the State of American Well-Being's 2015 community rankings. Charleston, W. Va., ranked as the top heart attack community with 8.8 percent of its survey participants suffering from heart attacks.
The Buffalo area had the worst percentage of any New York state community and far worse than upstate cities Syracuse and Rochester, which had heart attack percentages of less than 4 percent.
Area health experts expressed surprise at the ranking.
"I didn’t think we’d be great, but I didn’t think we’d be quite that bad," said Dr. Anne Curtis, a cardiologist and University at Buffalo professor who chairs the Jacobs School of Medicine. "That really should be a call to action. That’s simply not acceptable. We know too much today about what we can do to impact the incidents of heart attacks to let that go unchallenged."
The report also shows that nearly one-third of the region's residents reported dealing with high blood pressure and 30 percent with high cholesterol, which contribute to heart attacks.
Twenty-eight percent of survey participants also said they're obese, and 17 percent suffer from depression.
"In some ways, it’s a function of our level of poverty," said Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein.
High poverty correlates to poorer education, lack of safe housing, and less access to nutritious foods and preventative health care services, she said.
"It is disappointing to see that our community has carried the burden of so many preventable health conditions," Burstein said. "Many of them are related to the outcome of our lifestyles. We know that unhealthy eating and inactivity contributes to heart disease."
It also contributes to related conditions like diabetes and obesity.
The good news, these health experts say, is that many of these conditions can either be avoided or controlled with changes to lifestyle and eating habits.
"Be more active," Curtis advised. "Get more health checkups."
"One thing people can do is read the labels of food ingredients," Burstein said. "Know what you’re eating."
Sugar, even more than fat, is a major enemy of good health, she said. Add more fresh produce to your diet and consume fewer processed foods and sugary drinks.
Those who watch TV at night, Burstein added, should whip out a dance video on the side instead of just sitting on the couch.
It's not too soon to make some New Year's resolutions.
"It’s not easy," Burstein said. "We have to acknowledge that it’s really difficult to make any changes."
Ultimately, she said, it's also up to leaders in the community to help make it easier for local residents to make healthy choices. Greater access to fitness and recreation opportunities and greater access to healthy foods and health education can make the biggest difference, she said.