Mandatory limits to the salt content of processed foods and a complete online ban on the marketing of high fat, sugar and salt food and drinks are among a number of measures that could save thousands of lives each year, the Irish Heart Foundation has said.
The charity’s new position paper, ‘Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease’, also calls for an increase in the legal age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21, measures to reduce work-related sedentariness and a revised national food pyramid.
A new national cardiovascular policy is also needed, the paper says, after the last one expired four years ago.
“Little meaningful action has been taken in Ireland to truly address the key drivers of a leading cause of death and disability,” said the paper’s author, UCC Professor Ivan Perry, ahead of its launch today.
“Without the implementation of bold policy initiatives, we can expect continued and increased deaths and ill health driven by risk factors.”
Cardiovascular disease is Ireland’s second biggest killer, accounting for 8,753 or 26.5 per cent of all deaths in 2021.
The paper says that average blood pressure levels in the entire population can be reduced by introducing legislation that would place mandatory upper limits on the dietary salt content of processed foods such as bread and meat.
Other proposals aimed at preventing cardiovascular-related deaths include a call for the Department of Health to set out a revised national food pyramid, which would be similar to the Harvard healthy eating pyramid.
“Government and local authorities should address core issues in relation to urban planning, infrastructure and amenities, building design, regulatory and design guidelines and frameworks as set out in detail in the WHO’s Global status report on physical activity 2022,” the paper said, adding that measure should also be introduced to reduce physical inactivity caused by sedentary workplaces.
The paper also called for greater alignment of climate action to public health, including the setting up of a new cross-department working group to focus on the health benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The effects of poor air quality on coronary heart disease and stroke were also highlighted, with another recommendation stressing the need for the Government to meet its target of retrofitting 500,000 homes by 2030 as part of a transition away from the burning of solid fuels.
A new cardiovascular health policy should also be introduced after the last policy concluded four years ago and was never evaluated.
“The Department of Health’s cardiovascular health policy is out of date,” the paper notes. “There are significant gaps between the vision set out by Healthy Ireland and Slaintecare and their implementation.
“It is not sustainable for the health services to continue to focus on those already ill. If the political will existed, there is an enormous opportunity to prevent cardiovascular disease from the outset in thousands of citizens.
“Investing in chronic disease prevention, through affordable, cost–effective, high-impact policies and legislative measures will deliver the greatest possible health impact in reducing illness, disability, and premature death.”
Prof Perry’s findings are being supported by the Irish Health Promotion Alliance (IHPA) – a new coalition launched at the same event to highlight the devastating impact CVD, cancer and diabetes is having on the nation.
Members include the Irish Medical Organisation, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Irish Cancer Society, Irish Kidney Association, Croí and Alcohol Action Ireland.
The groups support the paper’s call for greater political will to implement population-based strategies to prevent the onset of disease.
“We do not do health well in Ireland and have an illness service rather than a health service,” said Janis Morrissey, the Irish Heart Foundation’s Director of Health Promotion, Information and Training and IHPA Chair.
“Chronic diseases, which share common risk factors, account for 40 per cent of hospital admissions and 75 per cent of bed days, yet these conditions are largely preventable,” she added.
“We need to change the narrative away from hospitals and waiting lists, and away from campaigns that focus on individual behaviours and so-called lifestyle choices.”
She said the workplace smoking ban improved everybody’s health, proving the Government’s ability to stand up to the big tobacco lobby – and which it now needs to repeat in other sectors.