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Heart Awareness Month

What is Heart Awareness Month?

Celebrated annually in September, this month is dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular disease in South Africa and culminates on World Heart Day on the 29th of September. Heart Awareness Month has long been a platform for raising awareness about heart disease and highlighting the importance of a healthy lifestyle and appropriate treatment. 

Heart disease affects South Africans here and now

Heart disease and strokes are the second biggest killer in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS. Once thought to be a disease of the elderly, heart disease now affects people of working age, with more than half of deaths occurring in people under the age of 65 years. Our lifestyles are largely to blame for this growing problem - we eat too much, smoke and drink too much and are not keeping active. Our children are particularly vulnerable and influenced by our unhealthy environments, and are at risk for heart disease from a young age. We have to ask ourselves, have our own homes become those unhealthy environments? Here are some of the shocking statistics in South Africa:

  • South Africa has one of the highest rates of high blood pressure worldwide: 1 in 3 adults
  • High blood pressure is a silent killer - 75% of people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it
  • 1 in 5 children in South Africa smoke
  • 1 in 2 adults and a quarter of children in South Africa are overweight
  • 210 people die from heart disease every day
  • 80% of these premature deaths can be prevented by eating better, moving more, and avoiding smoking

What is Heart Month 2017 about?

It's all about Sharing Your Power and Powering Your Life

Is South Africa ready for 25 by 25?

The World Health Organization has set 9 global targets to address lifestyle-related diseases. One of these goals is a 25% reduction in premature heart disease and a 25% reduction in blood pressure by 2025. Can this be achieved within the South African context?

Over the last 25 years, neither heart disease nor blood pressure levels have improved in South Africa. In fact, given that more people are overweight and have high blood pressure (hypertension) now than ever before, South Africa may even see an increase in heart disease as overweight, obesity and hypertension are known contributors to cardiovascular (CVD) disease.

To reduce the burden of heart disease, we need to encourage lifestyle changes in SA. This starts with encouraging South Africans to eat nutritious food, drink less alcohol, exercise more, manage day-to-day stress and giving up tobacco smoking. Early detection and diagnosis of CVD, treatment of hypertension, raised cholesterol (especially bad cholesterol-LDL), and managing diabetes can further help to prevent the onset of heart disease. Together, these factors can prevent up to 80% of all heart diseases before the age of 70 years if the individuals affected adopt healthy behaviors.

Heart Awareness Month (HAM) is earmarked by the HSFSA every year to encourage South Africans to re-evaluate their heart health and to start adopting healthy behaviors, to take back control, and Power Their Lives.

Getting to the Hearts of Young People in SA 

The damage inside blood vessels that leads to most heart disease already starts in childhood. Healthy lifestyles in childhood therefore has a direct positive effect on heart health, but even more importantly, it often creates a blueprint for lifestyle choices made in adulthood.

Ten percent (10%) of boys and 22% of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years are overweight. One South African study found girls who were obese between the ages of 4 and 8, were 40 times more likely to be obese when they finished high school. Numerous primary school children eat unhealthy foods on a daily basis, and don't participate in enough physical activity.

To start Heart Awareness Month, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa is raising awareness among young South Africans of the importance of keeping their hearts healthy. The HSFSA selected 13 schools, nationally, to participate in the Schools Health Promotion Initiative between August and September 2017.

The Schools Health Promotions Initiative aims to inform primary school children about the importance of their heart and brain health and how they can do to take care of these vital organs by eating smart, breathing fresh air, avoiding tobacco smoke and being physically active. Children will be further encouraged to exercise by being given a free skipping rope and a guest appearance from Hearty, the HSFSA mascot.

The presentation teaches simple exercise moves taught by our mascot, Hearty!  Hearty enacts 5 simple but necessary exercises we can all use daily. Finally, the HSFSA will showcase a performance from a professional skipper to captivate the learners with extraordinary tricks and skills using a mere skipping rope, thus making moving more a cool and aspirational thing to do.

Moreover, the staff at the 13 selected schools will have a Health Risk Assessment conducted by our health promotions officers and nurse practitioners.

Caring for adult hearts - get tested for free

Less than 50% of South Africa adults living with high blood pressure (hypertension) are unaware of their condition. The prevalence of hypertension is said to be around 45% among adults. Similarly, many people who are pre-diabetic and have raised cholesterol are unaware, and as a result do not improve their lifestyles nor gain access to medication. Blood pressure should be checked at least once annually for all adults, and blood glucose annually when overweight. Many people are unaware of the dangers of hypertension, prefer to postpone getting a medical check or, simply cannot afford to get tested.

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the HSFSA, urges all South Africans to have a Health Risk Assessment (which includes checking their blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol levels and weight) done free during HAM at all Dischem Pharmacies. Prof Naidoo expresses her gratitude to Dischem Pharmacies for partnering with the HSFSA to raise awareness of CVD and to mobilize communities to know their diagnosis and get treatment when necessary.