Heart disease is striking at a younger age – but you can fight it

Posted in Medshield Wellness | 19 September 2019

It’s always shocking when a young person has a heart attack, but the reality is that cardiovascular disease is increasingly affecting young people – globally and in South Africa. Why is this, and what can be done?

Statistics show that five people have heart attacks every hour in South Africa and, unfortunately, this number now reflects an increase in younger people.

One of the risk factors for heart disease is hypertension (high blood pressure), which is also the leading risk factor for death from heart disease, responsible for 13% of deaths globally. Worryingly, one in three people over the age of 15 in South Africa has hypertension. And one in 10 children already suffer from it.

Being overweight and obesity are also major contributors to cardiovascular disease risk. Reports by the World Obesity Federation state that if the rate of weight gain of South African children continues on the same trajectory, an alarming 3.91-million school children will be obese by 2025.

The situation is exacerbated by unhealthy eating, including the consumption of processed and fast food and sugary snacks, and poor intake of fruit and vegetables.

Studies from the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey also show that more than half of the children aged 10 to 14 years surveyed (51.1%) did not take a lunch box to school and over two-thirds of adolescents ate fast food at least three times a week, with two in three learners also buying sweetened drinks at least twice a week.

All this, combined with a lack of physical activity, increase the risk of heart disease.

Other risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking. Unfortunately, children in South Africa are using tobacco at alarming rates – it was estimated in a 2015 study that more than 55 000 children of 10 to 14 years old and 6.8% of adolescents smoke their first cigarette before the age of 10.

Another big hazard is second-hand smoke, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 25% to 30%. Second-hand smoke is of particular concern where children live in a household where parents smoke.

What can be done?

Although the statistics sound scary, up to 80% of cardiovascular disease deaths of young people can be prevented.

Contrary to popular belief, it is important to look out for heart disease in children. By staying vigilant and taking appropriate action, you can eliminate some of the risk.

Keep your kids active, either by getting them involved in sports at school or by finding fun ways for them to keep moving and active at home, in the park or on the beach.

Packing lunch boxes with healthy options is a great way to control your children’s diet. Also, avoid making eating healthy food sound like a punishment and unhealthy food like a treat. Healthy food can be fun too, you just need to be creative.

Plenty of online resources offer advice on involving children in preparing food, making mealtimes fun, and growing healthy produce yourselves.

Heart disease rates do not have to continue to rise – among adults or the young. Parents have the power to turn the tide.

Sources:

http://www.heartfoundation.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CVD-Stats-Reference-Document-2016-FOR-MEDIA-1.pdf

http://www.ngopulse.org/article/2016/10/13/childhood-obesity-south-africa

https://tobaccoatlas.org/country/south-africa/

https://www.wired.com/2011/08/12-smart-ways-to-make-healthy-foods-fun/

https://journals.co.za/docserver/fulltext/m_sajcn/28/1/m_sajcn_v28_n1_a2.pdf?expires=1568732947&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=299E8F7A73F657953BF9ECBF0E1ECBDC