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 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:
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.