Heart Health

07 January 2009


Three risk factors contribute to four major chronic diseases, which are responsible for more than 50% of deaths in the world.

3. FOUR. 50. Three simple numbers for one of the biggest health messages of our time: 3 risk factors – tobacco use, poor diet and lack of physical activity – contribute to four chronic diseases – heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lung disease and some cancers – which, in turn, contribute to more than 50% of deaths in the world.

modifiable risk factors:
major chronic diseases:
50% of deaths in the world
- Unhealthy diet
- Physical inactivity
- Tobacco use
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Lung disease
- Certain cancers

These so-called chronic diseases of lifestyle can affect all of us, no matter our age, nationality, race or class. They're a growing concern in South Africa and research shows that, as a result of urbanisation, industrialisation and a westernised lifestyle, these diseases are having a greater impact on this country than ever before.

Despite the high death rates caused by HIV/Aids, it's estimated that deaths from chronic diseases will increase from 565 deaths per day in 2000 to 666 deaths per day in 2010. These diseases don't just affect older people: according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, more than half the deaths caused by chronic diseases occur before the age of 65 years. These are premature deaths which affect the workforce and have a major impact on the economy of the country.

The good news is that we can all dramatically cut our risk for these diseases by making a few simple lifestyle changes:

  • Quit smoking or don't ever start. If you're struggling to kick the habit on your own, ask your doctor to help.
  • Eat healthily. This means cutting your intake of saturated fat from animal products, eating healthy fats in the form of plant oils and fish, and reducing your intake of salt, cholesterol, alcohol, sugar and high-energy foods. Increase your intake of fibre and foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (particularly fresh fruits and vegetables).
  • Exercise more. Research shows that 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise most days of the week offers protection from chronic diseases. Make a point of doing cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, running, cycling or swimming.

[3FOUR50 is an initiative of the Oxford Health Alliance, a partnership between Oxford University and Novo Nordisk A/S. The Alliance's aim is to stem the global epidemic of chronic diseases, and they're inviting all of us to take part in the conversation. For more information, visit]

- (Carine Visagie, Health24, November 2008)


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