Heart disease survival rates soar, but so do...
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Feb 03, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Heart disease survival rates soar, but so do unhealthy lifestyles, report warns

Survival rates, prevention and treatment have come a long way. But bad diets and inactivity are putting too many at risk.


These days almost 95 per cent of Canadians who have a heart attack and get to the hospital will survive, thanks to medical breakthroughs over the past 60 years. That’s the good news contained in a new report on heart health released Tuesday.

The bad news? The enormous gains in treating and preventing heart disease and stroke are being eroded by something far less scientific — plain, old unhealthy behaviour in our every day lives.

Junk food, screen time and lack of exercise are still putting too many people at risk, warns a report called “Getting to the Heart of the Matter” from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“An aging population combined with poor diets, high obesity and diabetes rates and physical inactivity will stall, if not reverse, the progress we have made against heart disease and stroke.”

It’s not rocket science that eating well, exercising and not smoking are the best defense against heart attack and stroke, two of the leading causes of death. Even the 2,000 adults surveyed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation for the report were aware of that.

But there’s still a disconnect between what people know and how they behave, it found. “We are not seeing these changes happen.”

The findings are “a call to action,” said Dr. Chi-Ming Chow, a cardiologist with St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a spokesperson for the foundation.

Science has come a long way, he said in an interview. Smoking rates have been cut in half, risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol are better understood and treated with more effective medication, and there are many more non-invasive options for people with heart disease.

Among patients who have had heart episodes, a far greater number are adopting healthier eating and exercise habits as a result of improved rehabilitation programs and follow-up care.

The big challenge now is “how to motivate people to change their behaviour” before they have a health crisis, said Chow.

It won’t be easy at a time when family physicians are often too swamped to counsel patients on lifestyle changes and the health care system doesn’t generally include preventive weight loss or fitness programs.

But Chow said he is optimistic that awareness about the importance of getting up and moving may gradually translate to higher rates of active transportation such as walking and cycling, and innovations such as walking meetings in some workplaces.

The report, which provides an overview of 60 years of research, notes the biggest accomplishment has been the surge in heart attack survival rates.

In the 1950s, about a third of people who made it to hospital following a heart attack didn’t survive. Today about 5 per cent die.

Cardiovascular disease is now responsible for 27 per cent of deaths in Canada, down from almost half of deaths in 1952.

Back then, fewer than 20 per cent of infants with complex heart defects reached adulthood. Today, 90 per cent do.

But daily behaviour has a long way to go. Diabetes rates in heart attack patients has skyrocketed, 60 per cent of Canadians are overweight or obese, and over the last 30 years obesity rates in children have tripled.

Most Canadians don’t meet minimum guidelines for healthy amounts of daily physical activity. And while nine out of every 10 people have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke, only 12 per cent of Canadians realize that.

“We need a better understanding around how to change behaviour across the population,” Dr. Paul Dorian of St. Michael’s Hospital said in the report, which surveyed 16 cardiologists and researchers from across Canada.

“Many of the diseases we treat are in theory preventable and by activities that do not require a doctor,” Dorian said.

Toronto Star

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