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Cost of silent risk factors for cardiovascular disease in Asia

18 Dec 2018

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Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), disorders of the heart and blood vessels, are the leading global cause of death annually, and they are reaching epidemic levels in many Asian countries including Singapore, according to a study released by the Economist Intelligence Unit this month.

CVDs contribute to approximately one in three deaths in Singapore, and they levy US$8.1 billion in direct and indirect costs on individuals, their households and the public finances. Modifiable risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol levels account for US$4.9 billion or 60 per cent of total direct and indirect costs.

According to the study, which looked at the prevalence and costs of the top four modifiable CVD risk factors across eight Asia Pacific economies (Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand), the largest challenge from these ‘silent’ risk factors is that individuals often have little knowledge of their effect until symptoms have become pronounced and the illness has advanced.

“The long timeline over which such diseases develop, however, makes it difficult for people to connect today’s behaviour to a heart attack 20 years later,” said Assistant Professor Kavita Venkataraman.

“Habit, convenience and cost are key factors in why people find it difficult to change behaviours related to tobacco use, diet and physical activity, even when they understand the risks. We need to make it easier for people to do the ‘right things’ consistently. This requires sustained efforts that involve not just the ministries of health but other ministries, like planning, urban and rural development, transport, trade and industries, as well as community partners,” added Dr Venkataraman.

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