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Action on cardiovascular disease: getting serious about prevention

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Later this week, to coincide with World Heart Day on Thursday, we are due to publish our first ever stocktake of work the organisation is undertaking to prevent cardiovascular disease (CVD).

This includes the release of a new version of our heart age tool, which allows people to calculate their heart age using their blood pressure and cholesterol.

Why are we doing this work?

CVD causes heart attacks and strokes, kidney disease, circulatory problems in the limbs and some types of dementia and unfortunately is very common.

This family of conditions affects around 6 million people in England and costs the NHS around £7 billion a year as well as having a devastating impact on individuals, families and communities.

CVD is responsible for a quarter of all premature deaths (deaths under the age of 75) and after cancer is the leading cause of disability in England.

It's also a major contributor to health inequalities with a pronounced socio-economic gradient in mortality.

Preventing CVD

Of course, there are some risk factors for CVD that cannot be modified - age, gender and ethnicity for example.

But many cases of CVD are highly preventable. Indeed, it is estimated that around two thirds of all premature deaths could be prevented by addressing underlying risk factors and improving clinical care.

We know that social and environmental influences such as poverty, housing and employment are important, as are behavioural risk factors such as smoking, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and harmful drinking.

There are also a number of clinical risk factors that predispose to CVD. High blood pressure, for example, accounts for around half of all strokes and heart attacks. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke, and developing diabetes doubles the risk of having a heart attack or stroke

But tackling these risk factors does work. We know that population level interventions have the greatest impact - for example tobacco control, salt and sugar reduction in foods, and place-based action that make it easier for people to lead healthy lives.

And support for individual behaviour change and preventive clinical treatments also make an important contribution to reducing CVD.

Interventions to help individuals to stop smoking, lose weight, improve diet and increase physical activity can be very effective.

Just a year after stopping smoking a person's risk of CVD falls to about half that of a smoker; and achieving recommended levels of physical activity reduces CVD risk by up to a third.

At the same time, optimal treatment of high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol and diabetes substantially reduce the risk of developing CVD.

As an organisation, we have a central role to play in promoting evidence-based national policies and providing guidance and tools to support effective intervention and implementation. It also helps to measure progress at both national and local levels.

Recent CVD work

Examples of recent work on CVD prevention include:

The stocktake we will be publishing on Thursday - ‘Action on Cardiovascular Disease: Getting Serious About Prevention’, systematically reviews PHEs work to support CVD prevention and identifies key priorities for action in the coming year.

These include strengthening internal working and alignment within PHE, strengthening collaboration with external partners to deliver better outcomes in CVD, and providing system leadership to support the NHS as it gets serious about prevention.

You can join us for a Twitter chat on Thursday (World Heart Day) on CVD and getting to the heart of the matter.

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