A LOSING BATTLE: Almost a third of the world population is overweight, and no country has been able to curb obesity rates in the past three decades. Picture: AP
The statistics are difficult to swallow - 210 people die in South Africa daily from heart-related diseases.

Worldwide, these are among the highest killers, claiming nearly 17million lives every day.

The World Health Organisation has set nine global targets to address lifestyle-related diseases. One of these is a 25% reduction in premature heart disease and a 25% reduction in blood pressure by 2025. But can this be achieved within the South African context?

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF), neither heart disease nor blood pressure levels have improved in the country over the last 25 years.

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.

“Unfortunately non-communicable disease (includes heart disease and stroke) is on the rise,” HSF chief executive Professor Pamela Naidoo said. “At this point in South Africa, CVD is the second-biggest killer after HIV.”

The Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology’s Michael Brown said part of the problem of the ballooning CVD cases was that people could have no symptoms for many years.

“Only when something goes wrong with health do people see a need to seek help. By that time we are no longer dealing with symptoms of an occult health condition alone, but also an irreversible outcome of the cardiovascular disease process,” he said.

Added to that, people and health practitioners have been largely socialised to treat illnesses (problems) but not to prevent them, Brown added.

“Once diagnosed with a risk factor, the challenge then becomes health education and coaching - this is largely absent in most healthcare settings," he said.

But, according to Naidoo, there is some positive progress in the country’s battle to control disease.

The recent salt legislation to impose maximum salt level targets for the food manufacturing industry that came into effect last year is one such strategy.

To reduce the burden of heart disease, Naidoo said there needed to be an active encouragement of healthy lifestyle changes.

This began with encouraging South Africans to eat nutritious food, drink less alcohol, exercise more, manage day-to-day stress and give up smoking.

“Early detection and diagnosis of CVD, treatment of hypertension, raised cholesterol 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" Naidoo said.