The impact and importance of cardiovascular disease prevention
Cardiovascular diseases are the main health problem in Romania. About 60% of Romanians die of these diseases every year. For this reason, Romania is facing one of the lowest life expectancies at birth, among all the countries of the European Community.
Despite this reality, the dramatic impact of cardiovascular disease is not perceived by the general public or the media. Daily interest is directed more towards cancerous diseases for example, whose annual mortality rate is three times lower than that due to cardiovascular diseases. This distorted perception contributes to the very low level of interest for the prevention of this kind of conditions.
There are four major risk factors for CVD: smoking, hypertension, sedentary disease and hypercholesterolemia. All of these are avoidable and/or controllable through simple measures and with minimal costs. This involves, first of all, an educational effort on a national level, aimed especially at the younger generations, who need to be aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The major risk factors are, as we have shown above, avoidable and/or relatively easy to control by simple measures. In a nutshell, it’s all about adopting a healthy lifestyle, based on physical activity, healthy eating, no smoking and regulating the blood pressure. Switching to a healthier mode of living implies a major change in mindset, which we can achieve through an educational effort at national level, in which the younger generations must be the main target. The experience of the countries that have adopted national programs dedicated to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases has shown what a major impact such an approach can have. Mortality from cardiovascular diseases has decreased rapidly in these countries, reaching 30%, respectively 50%, compared to Romania.
Countries which have implemented national programs dedicated to the prevention of CVD have achieved remarkable results. Let’s look at four such examples from Europe: Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
Finland. In 1970, Finland held the world record for cardiovascular mortality (over 80% of annual deaths). Between 1970 and 2010, the implementation of a national program for preventing cardiovascular diseases led to a reduction in the incidence of CVD by 80%, mortality from these diseases by 65% and the life expectancy of the Finns increased by 10 years.
Denmark has implemented several national and local cardiovascular disease prevention programs. Firstly, smoking was banned in public spaces. Secondly, it was forbidden to use saturated trans fats (margarines), which were responsible for a 25% increase in CV risk. Because of this, since 2003 Denmark has banned imports of trans-fat foods. Thirdly, it implemented programs in public schools which required 45 minutes of daily physical activity. Local communities have created “heart trails” to encourage physical activity in the population. The country’s infrastructure has multiple tracks for pedestrians and cyclists. The effect of these measures was the reduction by 70% of the mortality rate due to cardiovascular diseases, after 1985. Today, Denmark has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world by cardiovascular diseases (around 25%), while also being one of the few countries in which the mortality from these disease is lower than cancer mortality.
Switzerland. In Switzerland, CV mortality has decreased from 41% to 33% in 20 years, as a result of the ban on smoking in public spaces and the implementation of governmental and local infrastructure maintenance programs, meant to encourage sports activities (pedestrian paths, bike paths, sports clubs), sports programs dedicated especially to children and some programs of the Swiss Heart Foundation, which promote education and population testing on cardiovascular risk factors: smoking, high blood pressure, obesity.
The UK was one of the first countries to adopt the law against smoking in public spaces. The implementation of this law is considered to be the main measure which reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease in the United Kingdom. Since 2015, smoking has been banned in cars, if a child is present. There is a program, Health at Work, which informs employers about how to live a healthy lifestyle. The British Heart Foundation offers multiple information programs on lifestyle measures, tailored for the educational level of the various social categories. The national health system offers free health control every 5 years for people above 40 and below 74 years, currently not diagnosed with BCV. Because of all these efforts, the United Kingdom has managed to considerably lower the risk for cardiovascular diseases across the whole country.