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Critical Steps towards a Heart Healthy Environment

Risk Factors and Prevention


Heart disease is a preventable condition, yet 2 million people die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) annually in Europe. Cardiovascular disease is now affecting younger generations due to unhealthy lifestyles and causes 30 to 40% of all premature deaths. Recent studies have highlighted the mounting human and economic cost of heart disease, calculated to be 192 billion Euros per year 1.

A Call for Action 2 encouraging European countries to develop national strategies to combat heart disease has been issued by the Joint European Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.

Experts say local strategies should target four areas: Education, Health Insurance, Primary Care and Hospitals.

Schools are encouraged to promote a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, physical exercise and avoidance of tobacco.

"It is better to be healthy than ill. Despite abundant evidence that many cardiovascular diseases (heart attacks and strokes) are preventable through simple lifestyle measures, many countries only reimburse treatment and not prevention. Since treatment alone is expensive and cannot deal fully with Europe's biggest killer, CVD and since prevention works, it is important that governments allocate an adequate budget to sustained health education and preventive care within national health services. Primary care physicians, nurses and hospitals are key players in an integrated preventive health strategy. Lifestyle measures are not costly and also confer major added value in terms of less obesity, diabetes, lung diseases and cancer as well as less CVD," emphasizes Prof Ian Graham, Chairperson of the ESC Fourth Joint Task Force on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention.

The Joint European Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention3 is an alliance of organisations concerned with heart health. Prof Guy De Backer of the European Society of Cardiology, Chairperson of this group, explains: “A multidisciplinary approach is extremely important. Cardiologists cannot tackle heart disease alone. CVD is usually the product of multiple interacting risk factors so we need to work with experts from other bodies, in particular in the fields of behavioural medicine and diabetes. Much practical preventive advice is delivered by family doctors, nurses and voluntary bodies such as Heart Foundations. All these partners are represented in our joint committee.”

Working together, these partners contributed to updating the Joint European Guidelines 4 on CVD Prevention in Clinical Practice. These Guidelines are an important consensus document summarizing all available evidence in CVD with the aim to assist physicians in selection the best management strategies for patients at risk.

“The ESC is now working with its partners so that national strategies are implemented across Europe. The implementation should be driven by multidisciplinary local alliances,” explains Lars Rydén, former President of the ESC and a member of the Swedish Society of Cardiology who also contributed to the Guidelines. “This Call for Action will certainly be adopted in Sweden. Establishing alliances, incorporating representatives from all domains involved in creating a heart healthy surrounding and harmonizing all efforts towards this purpose is of the utmost importance. The implementation of the Prevention Guidelines is essential as well. Without a coordinated approach the goals will be difficult to reach. Together, these actions are really something we should be able to attain.”

“Time has come to join efforts and to take concerted action to improve cardiovascular health in Europe through a network of National Coordinators for CVD Prevention. The European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (EACPR) is actively involved in the implementation of the ESC Prevention Guidelines and eager to pilot this process throughout Europe, particularly targeting high risk regions” says Hugo Saner, EACPR President.

Evaluation of efforts to implement National CVD Prevention Policies will be monitored by the Joint European Societies on Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at regular intervals. A European Forum on CVD Prevention organised during the ESC Congress taking place in August 2008 in Munich, will provide the first statistics on implementation activities following the Joint European Societies’ Call for Action.

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) represents more than 50,000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe. Visit our website