Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Living With an Unhealthy Lifestyle

On Monday, January 25th the Heart & Stroke Foundation released their annual report on cardiovascular disease (CVD) in Canadians…calling our current situation the "perfect storm" looming in the horizon. The report reinforced earlier findings that we are putting ourselves at increasing risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The situation is so bad, that prognosticators are stating that parents will out-live their children.

Maybe we are reticent in responding to 'advice' on how to live our lives when we're not one of the 'statistics' identified, and maybe we just think that we're immune to troubles later on in life because we tell ourselves that we'll change. In either case we cannot dismiss some of the statistics in this and previous reports, including:

  • CVD accounts for 17% of all hospitalizations
  • Up to 80% of premature CVD is preventable
  • 9 out of 10 Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one of 10 'risk' factors (overweight, inactive, hypertension, hereditary, et al), 30% have at least 3 factors.
  • We know how to prevent CVD, and we also know how to manage CVD
  • Over $22 Billion is spent annually in health care and lost productivity (2000)
  • Shave 4 ½ years off your lifespan if you have heart disease

Despite the statistics, generally speaking there remains a reluctance to change behaviour towards living a healthier lifestyle. We know that eating a Whopper® will provide 39 grams of fat, (that number jumps to 64 grams if you add the cheese) while eating a homemade burger gives you…well, quite frankly I don't know how much fat…it would depend greatly on how you prepared your meal; what kind of meat you chose; and whether the size was comparable. The one fact I do know is that homemade burgers taste a heck of a lot better than fast food burgers…the problem is that they take way too much time to prepare.

But choosing to consume 'convenience' foods is only part of the concern. In February 2009, the Heart & Stroke Foundation released its Annual Report outlining the striking price variances not only between healthy foods and 'snack' foods, but also pointed out the geographic variances. Examples included:

  • 6 apples purchased for $0.90 in Peterborough, Ontario would cost $7.64 in Rankin Inlet, Nunavet.
  • A 4L-bag of 1% milk was noted being as high as $15.70

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for 'snack' foods. Pop, chips and other 'convenience' foods failed to demonstrate the same price variances as their healthier counterparts. The pricing variance impacts Canadian consumers so much that as much as 47% of Canadians surveyed stated that they'd occasionally go without items like fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy products, whole grain products, meat, and fish due to the high cost.

Couple the ease of attaining less than healthy foods with a sedentary lifestyle, and you've created some deadly base ingredients for a shortened lifespan. In the HSF 2006 Annual Report, heightened concern was noted on the propensity for inactivity among baby boomers. What disturbs me most about this particular study was that of those surveyed, 81% cited "more funding for projects that would encourage me to be active instead of driving my car" as a factor for changing behaviour. Forget that it is the 'right' thing to do…nope…make sure we're rewarding good behaviour. No reward, no change.

To summarize then…we know that leading an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle, including consuming unhealthy foods and beverages leads to a higher risk of contracting CVD in later years. We know what behavioural changes we need to enact in order to minimize that risk. The question then remains: "What are YOU doing to ensure you live a healthy and long life?"

February 1st signifies the start of Heart Month. Continued research and advocacy is obviously still required to reach a consensus on what efforts are still required to change our behaviours. Through the generous support of your contributions to HSF initiatives, over $73,500,000 was used for research and health education in Ontario alone.

Selfishly speaking I need you to adapt your lifestyle so that more those funds can be spent on research into congenital heart defects. HSF has assisted in the much-needed research geared to heart surgery techniques, and required lifestyle changes post-operative, as well as developing ways to detect heart defects at an earlier stage in life. I've had three open heart surgeries due to a birth defect in my heart…and my only goal in life is to live. For those of you born with healthy hearts, make the necessary change and continue to support the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

To read more on the Report, visit http://www.heartandstroke.ca/reportonhealth

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