Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 17.5 million people worldwide die every year due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. This number could increase to more than 23.6 million by 2030. In Brazil, one in three deaths is due to heart disease or stroke and the number of deaths reaches 300 thousand yearly for these types of diseases.
Bruno Marques, head of cardiac surgery department at the National Institute of Cardiology [INC] and cardiovascular surgeon at the CopaStar Hospital, says that although non-modifiable factors, such as genetics, contribute to the occurrence of such cardiovascular diseases, the numbers are higher mainly due to poor habits. An unbalanced diet, obesity, and hypertension are factors that can greatly increase the risk of an individual acquiring a heart condition. In addition, the doctor reminds that, with the increase in the number of elderly people and the life expectancy of the Brazilian population, the incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the country also increases. The cardiologist reports that the most commonly occurring ailment is atherosclerosis, which leads to progressive obstruction of the arteries, causing heart attack and stroke.
"It is necessary that there be follow-up with cardiologists since adolescence to control modifiable risk factors and that consultations become more frequent after the age of 40, when the occurrence of such diseases tends to increase", the doctor explains.
Marques believes that a breakthrough in cardiology today, in addition to medications to prevent atherosclerosis, to control blood pressure and diabetes, is the less invasive surgeries such as video and catheter procedures. According to the surgeon, in video interventions, for example, it is possible to make a small incision to treat the heart valves or perform myocardial revascularization. Such procedures, in addition to being less invasive, have a much faster recovery. However, despite the technological advances, the doctor believes that the main advance capable of drastically reducing the current death numbers will be the dissemination of large-scale information on the causes and the best forms of prevention of cardiovascular diseases for the Brazilian population.
Professor at the nutrition department at the Federal University of Santa Catarina [UFSC], Maurício Leite, with a Doctorate Degree in Public Health from FIOCRUZ's National School of Public Health [ENSP], states that the increase in the consumption of extremely salty processed foods, refined carbohydrates and fats, as well as the low consumption of vegetables, important sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, are factors that have been compromising the health of the Brazilian heart. Leite states that healthy eating associated with regular physical activity are determining factors for the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. However, he points out that determining the problem involves broader aspects, which do not depend on the individuals, significantly limit the chance of successful attempts for weight loss. "Today, in Brazil, half of the Brazilian population is overweight, but demographic research shows that, contrary to common sense, only about 5% of dieters are able to lose weight and maintain their new weight in the long run".
The professional emphasizes the need to discuss the context and interpret the causes of the problems. And he reminds us of the process of Brazilian urbanization, after which work ceased to be manual and exercising become a leisure activity. As leisure time is increasingly scarce and healthier food may be expensive for most Brazilians, the problem has become structural. That is, income ends up influencing individual habits, which also extends to physical activity. Although sports can theoretically be practiced in public and free spaces, actually, the availability of adequate and safe areas is a limiting factor, especially in the outskirts of the cities. Added to these facts, Leite highlights that there has been a growing industrialization of foods, which are increasingly processed, with less fibers, vitamins and minerals and with many sugars and fats. Therefore, the nutritionist believes that the State has a fundamental role in addressing the problem, which should not be reduced to individual choices.
"We need to think about public policies that are not limited to education and individual responsibility, but that effectively enable physical activity and increase access to healthier, affordable food, able to be purchased close to the homes", the researcher finishes.