18 October 2010

Survey confirms declining SA heart health

The 2010 Flora Test The Nation cholesterol awareness campaign has shown that 57 out of every 100 people tested had a cholesterol number higher than five (5mmol/L).


A year after the first Flora Test The Nation cholesterol awareness campaign, more people than ever are checking their cholesterol levels - and even more are finding out they are at risk.  

The 2010 Flora Test The Nation awareness campaign, which formed part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa’s annual Heart Awareness Month, saw a staggering 15 037 people tested for cholesterol at Pick ’n Pay stores on Friday 24 and Saturday 25 September – a massive increase over last year’s total of 6671.

“That people are becoming more aware of their heart health is good news,” said Sue Wilson, Director of Patient Focus Africa, whose nurses conducted the testing for Flora. “The results, however, give even more cause for concern than we thought.”

Results of the Flora Test The Nation initiative showed that compared with last year’s figure of 45, 57 out of every 100 people tested in 2010 had a cholesterol number higher than five (5mmol/L). A cholesterol reading of 5mmo/L or less is considered the target value for most people, while a reading of over 5mmo/L indicates a raised risk for heart disease and stroke.  

62.6% of women

The results of the Flora awareness drive also suggested that, contrary to popular belief, more women than men may suffer from raised cholesterol. An alarming 62.6% of people with raised cholesterol were female, compared with just 37.5% of males. A 2007 report commissioned by the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) and titled “Heart Disease in South Africa”, suggested that men were at greater risk, with 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women predicted to contract cardiovascular disease before the age of 60 - a figure which may already be shifting as more women test positive for high cholesterol.  

The age group with the highest cholesterol during the Flora campaign was the 46-55 age group, followed by the 37-45 age group - people in the prime of their working lives, who are often the breadwinners in their families. This tallies with the HSFSA report’s findings that premature deaths from heart disease in people of working age (35-64 years) are expected to increase by a staggering 41% by 2030.

According to the HSFSA, 195 South Africans (the equivalent of 13 minibus loads) die from some form of heart and blood vessel disease each day - a scourge that it is predicted to be the number one cause of death and disease worldwide by 2020. With 12% more people testing positive for high cholesterol than in last year’s Flora Test the Nation figures, the campaign’s findings clearly corroborate the worsening trend.

“What makes high cholesterol so dangerous is that it does not produce symptoms and is only usually discovered during routine screening,” said Sue Wilson. “The primary and most alarming risk associated with high cholesterol, or hypercholesterolemia, is increased coronary heart disease risk (heart attack and stroke). The condition is more common in men younger than 55 years and in women older than 55 years, and also increases with age.

Lifestyle factors

“While hypercholesterolemia is more common in individuals with an immediate family history of the condition, lifestyle factors (such as a diet high in saturated fat) clearly play a major role. Eighty percent of heart disease and stroke is preventable, and informed people can make better choices regarding diet, exercise and not smoking,” Wilson added.  

Flora Brand custodian Yumna Ahmed cautioned that “a diet high in saturated fat, found in animal products such as red meat, eggs and dairy products, raises the level of bad LDL cholesterol in your blood. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and plant sterols, an active ingredient in Flora pro-activ, can reduce your cholesterol substantially when combined with a move to a healthy diet and lifestyle".

In recognition of its work in educating consumers, Unilever’s Flora Test The Nation campaign received a Global Food Award at the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) World Food Congress in August.

“We are thrilled with the global recognition we have received for our Flora Test the Nation campaign,” said Ahmed. “As a responsible marketer operating in the arena of heart health, we have been on a mission for the past two years to make SA hearts healthier. The Test The Nation campaign is aimed at getting the public to sit up and take their heart health seriously. Only once people know their cholesterol number and are more educated about acceptable levels, can they make informed lifestyle choices to ensure they are in line with healthy recommendations.

“The success of making over 15 000 consumers aware of their cholesterol level is in itself rewarding, but receiving this recognition from the global scientific community makes our cause all the more worth it.”

Flora Test the Nation press release.

- (Health24, October 2010)


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