Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. It claimed the lives of 900,000 Americans in 2016. What’s more, as the obesity crisis has taken hold, the profile of a patient with heart disease has changed. This used to be considered a disease of aging. Unfortunately, more and more young people have been showing symptoms of heart disease. A key factor is the buildup of fat within blood vessels. This sticky, yellow substance can make it harder for blood to circulate. Another type of heart disease can be caused by high blood pressure.

Heart disease is not just a problem for one group in American society. It’s the top killer across the board, for men and women both. The good news is that in recent years, there has been a decline in early deaths caused by heart disease. Some of that cohort of young people is making healthier lifestyle choices. The NIH reports that during the period from 2000 to 2015, early deaths from heart disease declined by an impressive 20%.

In compiling this data, researchers looked at deaths among 25 to 64 year old Americans. They did not consider deaths caused by heart disease among the elderly population. Black men and women saw the most impressive declines in early deaths. Their numbers decreased by a factor of between 2 and 3 percent annually. The Hispanic population saw a similar decrease. For white women, however, the rate of early deaths from heart disease remained just about level.

The Native American population had the most disappointing results. Among that group, the number of premature deaths from heart disease actually increased. Native Americans and White Americans have also seen increases in endocarditis. This is an infection of the inner lining of the heart. This is a serious infection that contributes to premature deaths. There’s suspicion among researchers that the increase in endocarditis could be linked to the opioid epidemic affecting all levels of American society.

This research was conducted in Rockville, Maryland, by the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute. The study was publised in JAMA Cardiology. Researchers are keen to find ways to improve these numbers. They are looking at factors including income and access to healthy foods as possible factors.