Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle

High blood pressure is killing South Africans

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South Africans have one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide, so this Heart Awareness Month the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA is encouraging South Africans to Beat the pressure and get tested by offering free blood pressure tests to the public

When’s the last time you got tested? Your blood pressure that is. Hypertension or high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” for a reason. People don’t usually show any signs or symptoms and once they realise that they have high blood pressure, it is often too late. In fact, one in three South African adults, 15 years or older has hypertension and the majority of them are unaware that they have the condition. High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease and strokes, with statistics showing that there are about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes daily in South Africa. This year, to celebrate Heart Awareness Month, the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSF) in partnership with Clicks is offering free blood pressure tests for the public at all Clicks Clinics nationwide, by appointment for the month of September, and is encouraging South Africans to: “Beat the pressure. Get tested”.

Along with urging South Africans to get tested, the HSF is also encouraging South Africans to lower their salt intake by following simple steps, like adding less salt to their food when cooking, tasting their food before they add salt and adding less salt to their food at the table.

“South Africans eat far too much salt, more than double the recommended daily allowance,” says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA. “And what they don’t realise is that a high salt diet is a key contributor to high blood pressure and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes for heart disease or stroke”.

One also needs to take into account the cultural perceptions around salt. In many South African communities salt use and consumption is linked with health, cultural and spiritual beliefs. “In traditional, lower to lower-middle income communities, there is a widely held belief that salt has considerable health benefits, particularly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Additionally, there are some strong beliefs in rural and lower income communities that food left unsalted will be eaten by the Tokolosh,” says Dr Mungal-Singh.

“In rural and township communities, salt is added liberally to food as it is considered a cheap flavourant. It is also added generously to meat to preserve it from the elements, which is particularly common amongst road side butchers. These cultural perceptions and practices around salt are another challenge we are faced with in South Africa,” adds Dr Mungal-Singh.

Encouraging South Africans to lower their salt intake is important but first we need to educate them about the dangers of a high salt diet and that’s where Salt Watch steps in. Salt Watch is driven by a multisectoral coalition, supported by the National Department of Health, and is a member of World Action on Salt and Health. The HSF has been mandated as the implementing body of the Salt Watch campaign, a national public awareness and education campaign to encourage South Africans to reduce their salt intake.

Fortunately, in 2013 the Minister of Health signed legislation to make salt reduction in the food industry mandatory, helping to achieve the government’s target to reduce salt intake to less than 5 g a day by 2020. This makes South Africa the first country globally to legislate salt levels to help reduce the amount of salt that the public takes in from processed foods.

Every hour in South Africa, five people have heart attacks, 10 people have strokes and 10 people die from heart disease and stroke. But the good news is that 80% of these premature deaths (before the age of 60) can be prevented with a healthy balanced diet, being physically active regularly and avoiding smoking. Take your health into your hands from today by going for a free blood pressure test and lowering your salt intake.

Book an appointment at any Clicks Clinic for a FREE blood pressure test during the month of September. Call 0860 254 257 to book an appointment. For more information about heart health, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (43278).

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