"The decline in stroke deaths is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries," Daniel T. Lackland, a professor of epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston said in a statement. "The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third-leading cause of death."
The American Stroke Association reported the actual number of stroke deaths declined by 23 percent from 1999 to 2009. During the same time, the cardiovascular disease death rate declined by 33 percent, the association said.
Smoking cessation programs, programs to reduce blood pressure, improved control of diabetes and abnormal cholesterol levels all prevented strokes. Improvement in acute stroke care and treatment is also associated with lower death rates, Lackland added.
"We can't attribute these positive changes to any one or two specific actions or factors as many different prevention and treatment strategies had a positive impact," Lackland said. "Policymakers now have evidence that the money spent on stroke research and programs aimed at stroke prevention and treatment have been spent wisely and lives have been saved.
"For the public, the effort you put into lowering your blood pressure, stopping smoking, controlling your cholesterol and diabetes, exercising and eating less salt has paid off with a lower risk of stroke."
Stroke deaths dropped across gender and racial lines, he said.
"Although all groups showed improvement, there are still great racial and geographic disparities with stroke risks as well many people having strokes at young ages," Lackland said. "We need to keep doing what works and to better target these programs to groups at higher risk."
The scientific statement was published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.