Millions of people die prematurely each year due to noncommunicable diseases, some of the most common of which are cardiovascular diseases. New research from Harvard suggests that three tried and tested interventions could prevent many of those deaths if implemented through global policies.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 17.9 million deaths worldwide each year are due to cardiovascular disease, accounting for an estimated 31% of yearly global deaths.
In a new study, researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, have pinpointed three well-known, verified interventions that have the potential to prevent a significant number of such premature deaths at a global level.
More specifically, the Harvard T. H. Chan investigators estimate that the three public health interventions combined could help extend the lives of 94 million people over 25 years, from 2015 through to 2040.
However, the team notes that for this very achievable goal to become a reality, policymakers across the world have to commit to implementing the recommended measures.
“Focusing our resources on the combination of these three interventions can have a huge potential impact on cardiovascular health through 2040,” argues the study’s lead author Goodarz Danaei, who is an associate professor of global health at Harvard T. H. Chan.
Danaei and colleagues explain their findings in an open-access study paper that appears in the journal Circulation.
In their analysis, the researchers used data on mean blood pressure levels, as well as sodium (salt), and trans fat consumption in populations from different countries. They accessed this information via population health surveys and country-wide estimates, looking at available data and projections covering a period of 25 years, from 2015 through 2040.
The team found that three “well-known interventions,” namely: lowering blood pressure, reducing sodium intake, and eliminating trans fat from one’s diet could have an important beneficial effect in terms of preventing millions of premature, cardiovascular event-related deaths worldwide.
The researchers believe that boosting the reach of treatments for high blood pressure to 70% of the world’s population could save an estimated 39.4 million people. They also estimate that reducing salt consumption by 30% could prevent an estimated 40 million deaths, as well as decrease blood pressure rates in populations around the world.
This, the researchers explain, is important because high blood pressure is a top risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. Finally, they note that cutting the intake of trans fat, which is present in many fast food products and can endanger heart and vascular health, could extend the lives of 14.8 million people, according to the new study.
Danaei and team note that over half of all the premature deaths these interventions would prevent, as well as two-thirds of deaths delayed before the age 70, would most likely be among men. Should there be a global commitment to implementing these interventions, the regions that would see the most benefits would be East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia, and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Overall, this study indicates that these [three] interventions have enormous potential to save lives. However, scaling up these interventions to global populations is a huge challenge,” the researchers write in their study paper.
Countries all over the world would have to dedicate extra resources to providing antihypertensive (blood pressure-lowering) medication, promote education about the risks associated with too much sodium intake, and update and push out new and better health policies.
These goals are entirely achievable, the investigators emphasize. Other programs have already demonstrated this. One such program, tested by Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, was able to increase blood pressure control to 90% among its patients between 2001–2013.
“These are realistic goals that have been shown to be attainable on smaller scales. We need the commitment to scale up the programs to achieve them globally.”