New approach needed to tackle heart disease – the "dominant epidemic of the 21st century"

A new report The Heart of the Matter: Rethinking prevention of cardiovascular disease by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by AstraZeneca, investigates the health challenges posed by CVD. Despite greater recognition of the problem, every indication is that the global burden of the disease will get worse before it gets better. Greater collaboration is needed to prevent the disease.

CVD is the world’s leading killer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It accounted for 30% of deaths around the globe in 2010. A joint Harvard University and World Economic Forum study estimated the total economic cost to be over US$850bn per year – predicted to reach US$1tn by 2025. Dr Srinath Reddy, the president of the World Heart Federation, calls CVD “the dominant epidemic of the 21st century”.

In India and China, the percentage of deaths caused by CVD increased by 20% between 1990 and 2010. The equivalent rate in the US and western Europe fell by at least 20% during that same period, although CVD still accounts for 43% of all deaths in 2010, according to the WHO. The common feature of the disease across the world is its disproportionate impact on individuals from lower socio-economic groups.

The causes of CVD are widely known, such as smoking, a high-salt intake or a lack of exercise. This makes a large majority of CVD cases preventable. Existing prevention efforts are responsible for at least half of the reduction in CVD in developed countries in recent decades. Yet prevention remains little used. Governments, for instance, devote only a small proportion of health spending to prevention of diseases of any kind – typically 3% in developed countries.

No government, society or individual can afford to ignore CVD, finds the report, but independent action by these stakeholders is not enough. A co-ordinated approach is required across the public, private and social sectors – including the food industry, whose commercial interests should be aligned with prevention if CVD is to be unseated as the world’s number one killer.