Research suggests that South Africans may be at greater risk of heart disease and stroke due to the country’s “chronically stressed” economy.
A study conducted by Harvard University found that nations with poor performing economies are more likely to suffer from heart-related illnesses, which puts SA firmly in the red zone.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, the largest provider of heart medication in the country, says although cardiovascular disease (CVD) can affect anyone, no matter their income status, there are distinct differences in how various populations are affected by severe heart disease and stroke.
“In the last 30 years, CVD rates are estimated to have increased by 120% for women and 137% for men in developing countries where economic growth has typically been poor.
“In developed countries, the average age of death among CVD sufferers continues to climb largely due to preventative strategies, such as lifestyle change. Nearly 80% of CVD-related deaths in high-income countries occur among those who are retired and aged over 60.
“Whereas, in developing countries, such as SA, the high burden of heart disease is mainly a consequence of an increase in the prevalence of risk factors (poor diet and lifestyle choices) and lack of access to medical intervention. As a result, people in poorer countries die much younger (at economically active ages) from heart disease, potentially leaving their families to fend for themselves.
“Research also reveals that people who are disadvantaged throughout their life are more likely to smoke or be obese. When people don’t know where their next pay cheque or food is going to come from, they often eat high-density foods that offer little nutritional value, but that are calorie-rich and affordable. Cheaper foods contain a lot of salt and refined sugar that are bad for your heart,” she says.
The data further indicates that long-term exposure to poverty leads to an increased risk of heart disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that those who were disadvantaged as children and adults were 82% more likely to develop heart disease than those who were financially better off.
South Africa’s deteriorating economy isn’t helping to improve job prospects for the approximately 30 million South African adults (more than half of the nation’s population) living in poverty.
Jennings says as people battle to make ends meet, cigarette smoking and alcohol will be increasingly misused to help them ‘cope’ with the stressors and strain that come from living on the breadline. “Smoking and drinking are both risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
“The best way to address heart disease and stroke is to prevent it, especially among disadvantaged populations. However, many resources are spent on educating the more affluent, while the poor are often neglected. The earlier cardiovascular disease is detected, the sooner steps can be taken to prevent its development.
“Increasing education around heart-health among the poor should be a priority as it could eventually lead to a significant reduction in CVD incidence among the most vulnerable in society,” says Jennings.