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Poor lifestyle choices to blame for high blood pressure rates among South Africans


Hypertension rates in South Africa and Africa have skyrocketed, with the continent now becoming the epicentre of the disease.

Picture: Ross Jansen.

Johannesburg – The excessive abuse of alcohol by South Africans has contributed to the shocking rise in high blood pressure rates in South Africa.

High blood pressure (hypertension) rates in South Africa and Africa have skyrocketed, with the continent now becoming the epicentre of the disease.

High blood pressure rates in Africa have climbed by more than 30% in the last decade, with an estimated 31% of men and 36% of women in South Africa being affected. It is the single biggest cause of premature death globally.

While there are a number of factors that have led to the shocking increase, the abuse of alcohol by South Africans is one of the driving factors.

Most recently, the World Health Organization (WHO), which produces global alcohol and health status reports, released their latest report – which shows that, on average, South Africans over the age of 15 consumed 9.3 litres of pure alcohol, each, in 2016. The figure was 16.2 litres for men and 2.7 litres for women.

Based on these figures, South Africa ranked 50th out of 195 countries for total alcohol consumed, per capita, in 2016.

South Africa’s average per capita consumption was also 1.45 times higher than the global average, which was 6.4 litres per person.

A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high. File image.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, the country’s largest provider of cardiovascular medicine, puts the rising prevalence of high blood pressure rates down to a substantial increase in behavioural risk factors, like alcohol consumption, smoking, unhealthy diet, and a lack of physical inactivity.

“An unhealthy diet (high in salt and saturated fat), smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic stress, lack of physical activity, older age, being obese or overweight, are among the driving factors,” Jennings told the Saturday Star.

“Urbanisation and an ageing population have also contributed to the rising incidence of hypertension in Africa. Poverty is also a major vulnerability, as it limits choices for healthy lifestyles, such as nutritious foods and access to timely health care,” said Jennings.

Aside from alcohol being a driving factor, Jennings said the lack of physical activity and unhealthy diets by South Africans had also contributed to high rates of high blood pressure.

“We don’t exercise enough. Almost 40% of South African adults are inactive and, according to Discovery Health, nearly 70% of South African women and 31% of South African men are overweight or obese,” said Jennings.

SOUTH African women have the highest obesity rate (42%) in sub-Saharan Africa. Picture: Reuters

Jennings said that there has also been a huge lack of screenings and tests for hypertension in South Africa.

An estimated nine in ten adults with high blood pressure go unscreened, undiagnosed, and untested, in South Africa.

The latest South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) shows that, among those with hypertension, 48.7% go unscreened and undiagnosed, 23.1% are screened but undiagnosed, 5.8% are diagnosed but untreated, 13.5% are treated but uncontrolled, and 8.9% are controlled.

The less fortunate may not have the time and money it takes to travel to health facilities. This poses a barrier, as they’d need to take time off work and no work often means no pay,” said Jennings.

The SANHANES study also shows that hypertension is most prevalent in rural (39.6%) and urban (37.1%) areas, and lowest in urban informal settlements.

“People don’t take the condition seriously enough, since it doesn’t show any signs or symptoms,” says Jennings.

Jennings is hoping that the recent launch of the National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases will ensure that more adults are screened and treated for hypertension.

“The (plan) signals a shift in the government’s priorities, where they aim to reduce premature deaths from NCDs, which includes heart disease – by 25% in the short-term,” said Jennings.

“Long-term hypertension detection and management programmes, that focus on cardiovascular risk, are critical if we are to tackle the current unmet need for care in SA,” said Jennings.

Jennings says it’s also important that South Africans adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Picture: Lucy Nicholson from Reuters.

“Eat healthily (diet low in salt, saturated fat, and sugar), exercise regularly, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress and avoid smoking,” Jennings advised.

“This Heart and Stroke Awareness Month, we are appealing to the public to have their blood pressure checked. Adults, between the ages of 18 and 39, should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years, while those older than 40 should go for a screening annually,” said Jennings.

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