ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – Over 200,000 deaths caused by heart disease could be prevented each  year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention learned that, ultimately, heart disease claims the lives of 800,000 Americans every year – an estimated 30 percent of all deaths in the country – making it the leading cause of the death in the United States.

A fourth of those could have been prevented, CDC researchers found, adding that half of those are deaths in people below 65 years of age.

“These findings are really striking,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the CDC, told CBS News. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of deaths that happen, that don’t have to happen.”

The CDC specifically spoke about coronary artery disease in one part of their study. Researchers found that 80 percent of deaths from that particular heart disease are caused by heavy drinking, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and overall obesity – habits that, if changed, could keep people alive.

Monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure would also help prevent avoidable fatalities from coronary artery disease.

Similar changes could also stave off approximately half of deaths caused by strokes, CDC officials noted.

“Even one preventable death is one too many,” Frieden said. “It’s really possible for us to make rapid and substantial progress in reducing these deaths.”

The study was published online by the CDC on Tuesday.

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