Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death and hospitalizations in both men and women across levels of income. High cholesterol, hypertension, smoking, and lack of exercise are the leading risk factors for developing cardiovascular problems. While we’ve made great progress getting the rate of smokers to steadily decline in recent years, we’ve also seen a consistent rise in rates of obesity. There’s work to be done, and cardiologists, individuals, and public health officials will need to approach these issues with a diverse toolset in order to make a true impact on public health. Here’s how we’re going to tackle the number one threat to human health.
We need to educate people about their health from the start: childhood. Programs such as the Sesame Street Education Project in Colombia are helping educate young children about the importance of health, reaching millions of child viewers in Columbia each year. In the United States, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign, targeting childhood obesity through proper fitness and nutrition. Experts are predicting that children who go through these programs (who will reach adulthood in nearly 10 years) will have lower cardiovascular risks than their parents.
We also need to see important advancements in research and technology that will enable scientists to do more from a treatment standpoint. Early detection, for example, is an important factor in preventing death and/or hospitalization, but cardiovascular illnesses are often slow to show symptoms. For that reason, it has been given the ominous nickname “The Silent Epidemic.” Doctors need better ways to detect when arteries have just begun to accumulate arterial plaque, while the condition is easily treatable, instead of waiting for serious blockages or heart failure to take place.
There will need to be improvements in our ability to help those who survive one myocardial infarction (heart attack) from suffering a second. It might seem obvious that one would need to make certain lifestyle changes and take appropriate medications after suffering from a heart attack, but studies have found that a large percentage of people who suffer a heart attack to do not end up taking their prescribed medications. For some, taking a lot of pills each day is unappealing or too much work, for others, such as those in low income areas, they simply cannot afford it. For this reason, scientists have been focused on the polypill, which combines three medicines active in secondary prevention into a single pill. This pill is now beginning to be distributed widely, and studies on those taking the pills will help doctors and scientists determine how important medications are in future prevention of myocardial infarctions.
Everyone from physicians to politicians will need to prioritize cardiovascular health, but the public will also need to be more responsible for their own health. As the world refocuses on promoting healthy exercise, proper nutrition, early detection, and advanced treatments, it is the public’s job to take these advancements and education and apply them to their own lifestyles. With everyones help and focus, we can make a real impact on the future of cardiovascular health.
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