Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

More South Africans than ever are overweight and hypertensive‚ making it unlikely that premature heart disease and high blood pressure will be reduced within eight years.

That is the warning from the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA ahead of World Heart Day on Friday.

According to the foundation‚ the World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to reduce premature heart disease and high blood pressure by 25% by 2025.

"Over the past 25 years‚ neither heart disease nor blood pressure levels have improved in SA. In fact‚ given that more people are overweight and have hypertension now than ever before‚ SA may even see an increase in heart disease as obesity and hypertension are known contributors to cardiovascular disease‚" said Prof Pamela Naidoo‚ head of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

Concerned about the high incidence of heart disease among South Africans‚ the foundation has embarked on a drive to encourage lifestyle changes.

Key to addressing the burden of heart disease is early detection and diagnosis of cardio-vascular disease‚ treatment of hypertension‚ raised cholesterol and managing diabetes.

Naidoo warned that the damage inside blood vessels — which leads to heart disease — could start in childhood.

"Ten percent of boys and 22% of girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years are overweight. One South African study found girls who were obese between the ages of four and eight were 40 times more likely to be obese when they finished high school‚" said Naidoo.

"Numerous primary school children eat unhealthy foods on a daily basis and don’t participate in enough physical activity."

Through its School Health Promotions Initiative‚ the foundation has been encouraging primary school children to exercise by handing out skipping ropes.

Dr Shanil Naidoo‚ medical director of pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim‚ said: "Many South Africans have uncontrolled or undiagnosed hypertension‚ diabetes and high cholesterol.

"A study in 2014 showed that 78% of South Africans aged 50 years and older had hypertension. Less than 40% of those surveyed were aware of their diagnosis and only 7% had their hypertension under control. These individuals are placing themselves at an even higher risk of having heart attacks or strokes. While we cannot change our genetics or age‚ it is important to understand that we need to be disciplined about lifestyle choices‚ which include regular medical check-ups."

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