The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) is powering up this September for Heart Awareness Month (HAM). They aim to reach the global goal of reducing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 25% by the year 2025.
Why a whole month for Heart Awareness Month?
Heart disease is the world’s number one killer, claiming nearly 17 million lives every year. Although the incidence of heart disease has steadily declined in high-income countries, the burden on middle and low-income countries has never been greater.
In South Africa, the burden of heart disease and stroke follows HIV and AIDS; 1 in every 5 deaths are caused by heart diseases and strokes, totalling nearly 82 000 lives lost annually.
Despite advances in medical care, contributing factors, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity, a poor diet, lack of exercise and pollution, are all on the rise. Tobacco use has decreased, but 37% of men and 7% of women in SA are still regular smokers, tripling their risk of heart disease.
Heart disease in SA is further exacerbated by inequality. While high blood pressure is common across socio-economic groups, awareness and appropriate treatment is much lower among people living in poverty. Making healthier choices to eat better, stop smoking or to get active are far less achievable for South Africans trapped in poverty.
Is South Africa ready for 25 by 25?
The World Health Organisation has set nine 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 SA. In fact, given that more people are overweight and have high blood pressure now than ever before, SA may even see an increase in heart disease as obesity and hypertension are known contributors to cardiovascular (CVD) disease.
How to reduce the burden of heart 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 give 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 behaviours.
Heart Awareness Month is earmarked by the HSFSA every year to encourage South Africans to re-evaluate their heart health and to start adopting healthy behaviours 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 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.
Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme
To start Heart Awareness Month, the HSFSA 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 Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme between August and September 2017.
The Skip Smart for your Heart Schools Programme aims to inform primary school children about the importance of their heart and brain health and what they can do to take care of these vital organs by eating smart, breathing fresh air, avoiding tobacco smoke and being physically active.
Exercise with Hearty
Children will be further encouraged by Hearty to exercise. The HSFSA mascot will visit the schools, and the children will be given a free skipping rope. His presentation teaches five simple exercise moves that 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 health promotions officers and nurse practitioners.
Caring for adult hearts – get tested for free
Less than 50% of South African adults living with high blood pressure 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 annually for all adults, and blood glucose annually when overweight. Many people unaware of the dangers of hypertension prefer to postpone 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 Heart Awareness Month at all Dischem Pharmacies. Prof Naidoo expresses her gratitude to Dischem Pharmacies for partnering with the HSFSA to raise awareness of CVD and to mobilise communities to know their diagnosis and get treatment when necessary.
Build-up to World Heart Day (WHD)
The HSFSA’s build-up to WHD (29 September), during Heart Awareness Month, will focus on lifestyle factors which have a major impact on one’s risk for developing heart disease. Each week there will be a focus on important risk factors. These focus areas are detailed below:
- Your body does not want the extra salt: To encourage the reduction of extra salt for your heart health, a Salt Reduction Campaign will run from 1 – 8 September, funded by the National Lotteries Fund (NLC) and supported by the Department of Health (DOH).
- Keep it light: bring obesity down: Emphasising how physical activity and healthy eating go hand in hand, we need to evaluate what we eat and portion control. Healthy eating should not be a ‘diet’ but rather a lifestyle. The importance of physical activity in conjunction with eating well, how much exercise is enough, and simple ways to incorporate this into everyday life are imperative.
- You can do it: This unappealing habit (smoking) can be conquered, HSFSA can help with smoking cessation and dispel any myths and misconceptions associated with tobacco smoking. Tobacco smoking is one of the biggest drivers of CVD.
- Power up on WHD – The HSFSA, together with key staff at UCT’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, will be involved in activities aligned with the World Heart Federation’s mission and vision to bring to South Africa’s attention that we can work together to reduce the burden of heart disease.
The HSFSA will light up iconic landmarks on WHD as they drive the global goal of reducing premature deaths from CVD by 25% by the year 2025. They will explore risk factor reduction and influencing the behavioural and uptake of health risk assessments.