Heart Health Issues in Canada

February 2/Toronto/The Toronto Star -- Many Canadians are in denial about risk factors for heart disease that are within their means to manage and control, warns the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The poll of 2,000 adults was conducted in December. The survey found that 84% of respondents understood that nine out of 10 adults have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Nine in 10 surveyed knew the majority of first-time heart attacks are caused by risk factors that they can control.

The disconnect came when respondents evaluated their own health. Nearly 90% of participants rated themselves as healthy, an assessment that does not fit with the reality, which is that the same percentage of the Canadian population has at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

About a third of poll respondents said they are not physically active or do not eat a minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. In reality, about half of Canadians fail to meet the physical activity and healthy-eating recommendations.

"What we think we're doing as individual Canadians and what we're actually doing is not the same thing," said Dr. Beth Abramson, a Toronto cardiologist and Heart and Stroke spokeswoman.

"There's a disconnect, and there's a false sense of security that's cutting our lives short. We're overestimating our healthy behaviors and underestimating our tendency to be couch potatoes, so we need to make individual plans that can change our heart-healthy behavior and our long-term outlook."

The poll's findings were assessed along with previous Statistics Canada reports, including self-reported data from the 2009 Canadian Community Health Survey and results from the 2007-09 Canadian Health Measures Survey.

"Even when you look at the self-reported data, which is a potential underestimate of people's behaviours, there's still a gap between perception and reality," said Marco Di Buono, director of research for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Dr. Arya Sharma, scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, believes the disconnect comes down to issues of both time and stress.

"Canadians are not lazier today than they were ever before, which is what you often hear people say," he said from Edmonton.

"If you look at the actual hours that are being worked, the actual hours people spend time doing things, we work harder than we've ever worked before. Unfortunately, that hard work is no longer physical activity or related to physical activity."

The typical person is usually rushing to get their children to and from school and activities and spending long hours commuting, Sharma noted.

While at work, the day is spent in meetings and in front of a computer, with rare opportunities for a healthy snack or lunch during the day.

"By the time you get to 9 o'clock, 10 o'clock, you are completely exhausted. But now you're telling people to exercise, make food from scratch," he said. "It's not that people don't know these things, but it is just so hard to do."

In addition to longer commutes, incomes are not growing at the same pace of inflation in many parts of the country, and the cost of food is rising more rapidly than other goods and services, Di Buono said.

"It's out of the control of many Canadians to actually change their behavior, because the proper behaviors are neither accessible nor affordable for the vast majority of us," he said.

"So what we prefer to see is actually not more preaching to Canadians about having to exercise more and having to eat better; it's about putting measures in place that will enable Canadians to exercise more, be more active and eat better."

The foundation issued a call to Ottawa to fund implementation of its Canadian Heart Health Action Plan.

From the February 7, 2011, Prepared Foods E-dition