A new survey to launch the latest edition of Coronary Heart Disease Statistics, an annual compendium, found that 27 per cent were unable to identify heart and circulatory diseases as the biggest single cause of death and 20 per cent were muddled. Only 10 per cent of the population thought heart disease could affect 'fit' people and only 11 per cent of under-35s understood that people in their age group could be affected.
Professor Gerry Shaper, of the British Heart Foundation's education committee, said yesterday that hundreds of thousands of people died from heart disease every year and millions of people lived with it. 'Those who have had a heart attack may live in fear, anxious about when trouble may strike again. Others may be unaware of the risks. Yet as many as a quarter of middle-aged men have evidence of coronary heart disease. Even in their early forties, one in six men is affected,' he said.
Heart disease kills 300,000 people a year and although rates are falling, the UK still scores badly against 22 industrialised countries. Scotland and Northern Ireland head the league tables with England and Wales in seventh place and Ireland in fifth.
'Coronary Heart Disease is still the most important cause of death and disability in the UK and is a major drain on the country's economic resources,' Dr Mike Rayner, of the department of public health and primary care at Oxford University, who compiled the report, said. 'UK death rates have not been falling as fast as in some other countries. The rates for men between 35 and 74 fell by 22 per cent between 1979 and 1989 but by 37 per cent in America and by 32 per cent in both Australia and Japan,' he said.
Dr Rayner said: 'Despite the decline, the trends in the risk factors seem to be bottoming out and this is worrying. We are seeing an increase in obesity and in smoking in young people.' The decline in cigarette smoking since the 1970s has not been so pronounced in recent years and teenage smoking, particularly among girls, is rising slightly. There is a mixed picture on diet and health.
'The percentage of food energy derived from saturated fats (fatty meat and diary produce) has fallen from around 20 per cent to 16 per cent and the percentage of polyunsaturated fats (vegetable margarines) has risen from 4 per cent to 7 per cent. But the percentage of food energy derived from total fat has remained unchanged at around 42 per cent,' he said.
Since the mid-1980s, the consumption of whole milk has fallen by 64 per cent, butter by 74 per cent and red meat by 35 per cent. This is movement in the right direction for heart disease prevention. But consumption of potatoes, which are rich in fibre and vitamin C, has also fallen by 28 per cent.
The cost of heart disease to industry in lost work is pounds 3bn and the cost to the NHS is calculated at nearly pounds 1bn. Dr Rayner said: 'Fifty-three million working days are lost in Britain every year due to coronary heart disease, representing over 10 per cent of all days lost to sickness.'
Coronary Heart Disease Statistics; British Heart Foundation, 14 Fitzhardinge Street, London W1H 4DH.
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