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September 2018

Well-meant campaign may increase anxiety in worried well

Four out of five people have a heart age higher than their actual age, according to new campaign figures from Public Health England (PHE).

PHE is calling for adults across the country to take an online Heart Age Test, which will provide an immediate estimation of their ‘heart age’.

The Heart Age Test has been completed more than 1.9 million times and four out of five (78%) people have a heart age higher than their actual age. Around a third (34%) have a heart age over 5 years and 14% at least 10 years over their actual age.

But the release of these figures, and subsequent media coverage, could prompt ‘great anxiety’, say GP leaders.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘These are really alarming figures that will cause great anxiety for many, but rather than people panicking we hope this well-intentioned initiative by PHE will serve as a wake-up call for us all to be more aware of our general health and prompt changes that will help us to lead longer and healthier lives.

‘[These] figures show that as a nation we are taking our heart health for granted. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of having a heart attack and causes many other health issues, but we can all take simple steps to improve our health by being more active and doing regular exercise, cutting down on unhealthy foods and alcohol and stopping smoking.’

A quarter (24,000) of CVD deaths are in people under the age of 75, with 80% of these preventable if people made lifestyle and behaviour changes to improve their heart health (around 19,200 deaths per year – the equivalent to 50 deaths a day or one every 30 minutes). High cholesterol and high blood pressure can both increase heart age, increasing the risk of developing a heart disease or stroke three-fold. In England, one in four adults have high blood pressure yet a further 5.6 million are living with the condition undiagnosed.

In comments directed at members of the public, British Heart Foundation chief executive Simon Gillespie said: ‘Our message is that it’s never too late to change. Take the test, and if you are concerned by the age of your heart, make an appointment to see your GP.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘The BMA has been clear for a long time that cuts to public health budgets have a damaging effect on individuals’ health and wellbeing and end up putting the NHS under further pressure in the long-term, and these figures paint an alarming picture.

‘Improving a population’s heart health requires public health initiatives to encourage healthy eating, regular exercise and a change of lifestyle, including help to quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake. However, with these services stretched, it is GPs and their staff, as the first point of contact for many patients, who bear the workload brunt when their local area’s health suffers.

‘Prevention is always better than cure, and while this campaign by PHE may encourage the public to consider how their own lifestyles are affecting their hearts, the Government must also take responsibility for the part budget cuts have played in the nation’s deteriorating health.’