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ATLANTA -- The first county-by-county atlas of U.S. stroke deaths confirmed in graphic detail Thursday that Southerners and blacks are more likely than other Americans to die of a stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that blacks are 40 percent more likely than whites to die of a stroke. South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina had the highest rates of death by stroke, the third-leading cause of U.S. deaths after heart disease and cancer.
Northeastern states and Florida had the lowest stroke death rates in the CDC Stroke Atlas.
The report, which covered data from 1991 to 1998, confirmed racial and ethnic disparities long known by doctors.
"We're really hoping that by showing the magnitude of the burden, our policy makers would be aided in making a decision in where to put resources in order to (prevent) death and disability," said Dr. George Mensah, chief of the CDC's heart disease and stroke prevention program.
Experts suspect blacks have more strokes because they have higher rates of high blood pressure, the leading risk factor. Blood-pressure lowering drugs have been less effective for blacks, doctors say.
Doctors suspect the South has a higher stroke rate because it has more poor communities with less access to health care and greater risk factors such as obesity, smoking and lack of physical activity.
Strokes affect 700,000 Americans every year, killing 165,000.
The overall stroke death rate for adults 35 and older was 121 per 100,000 people. The range among states varied from 89 per 100,000 people in New York to 169 per 100,000 in South Carolina.
The CDC said health officials can eliminate racial and geographic disparities by reducing blood pressure, smoking and weight problems among people in high risk groups.