If you’re stuck for a birthday present for Mum or Dad, and she’s 55 or older and he’s 45 or older, you could consider giving them an all-expenses-paid trip to the doctor.
It might mean the difference between life and death from heart attack or stroke in coming years.
“Those who would benefit most from a check-up are over 45 for men and over 55 for females – especially if they smoke, are overweight, don’t exercise regularly and have diets rich in saturated fat,” says leading epidemiologist, Professor Rod Jackson of Auckland University.
Professor Jackson is the author of the Southern Cross Health Test – a unique, 5 minute, online questionnaire available on this site, which assesses a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nearly seven per cent of those completing the test have a heart attack or stroke risk of around 10% or higher in the next five years. And that’s the threshold at which a person should be seeking medical advice from their GP, according to Professor Jackson.
If that statistic is applied to the adult New Zealand population, it means tens of thousands of kiwis should be planning a visit to their doctor, to get advice or treatment that can reduce their risk.
Professor Jackson says there are many simple things we can all do to minimise cardiovascular risk, such as changing the type of milk you drink.
“By substituting one 200ml serving of standard dark blue top milk with a reduced fat green top variety per day, you will consume around 1.3kgs less of saturated fat in a year. And a person's calorie intake will decrease by over 14,000 – or roughly 6 days worth of energy for a moderately active adult male.
“That kind of reduction in saturated fat and calorie consumption could mean a measurable reduction in blood cholesterol levels and weight, which in turn will reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.”
Professor Jackson says New Zealanders could also lower saturated fat intake by reducing consumption or choosing lower saturated fat alternatives in a number of other areas. This was particularly true of people who use butter as their preferred spread on bread and crackers, ate 3 or more scoops of full fat ice and/or four or more slices of cheese a week.
“Saturated fat consumption is the biggest cause of high blood cholesterol, which is one of the key lifestyle risk factors in cardiovascular disease risk. The average New Zealander’s diet contains more saturated fat than almost any other country in the world, which is why we have one of the world’s worst death rates from cardiovascular disease.”
That advice is endorsed by Southern Cross Healthcare Group Chief Executive Dr Ian McPherson. “Getting Kiwi blokes to the doctor can be a challenge even when they’re ill, so motivating them to go along when they aren’t showing any symptoms of illness can be mission impossible. What they don’t often realise is that in one third of cardiovascular disease cases, the first symptom of problems is death.”
Another great way to front up to health issues is to take the Southern Cross Health Test and pinpoint your personal cardiovascular risk factors. If you can’t get them to the doctor, at least get Mum and Dad to take the test at www.southerncross.co.nz/heart.