New MEPs must prioritise cardiovascular health

Despite health not being an EU competence, progress has been made on cardiovascular health which must continue into the new parliamentary term, say Linda McAvan and Antonyia Parvanova.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are among the most common chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), a group of conditions which are the leading cause of death worldwide. In Europe, CVDs account for over 50 per cent of all deaths from NCDs.

It is expected that four major health determinants, tobacco, poor diet, alcohol and physical activity, will be responsible for a significant increase in NCD prevalence over the next 20 years under status-quo prevention and treatment trends.

In the next 20 years, projections indicate that around 40 million EU citizens will have died from CVD. Yet, up to 80 per cent of premature CVD deaths are preventable through early management of risk factors. It is the moral duty of the EU to reverse this trend and the EU summit on chronic diseases provides an ideal framework for taking action and helping achieve the global target to reduce mortality from NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025.

EuroHeart II, a project co-funded by the EU from 2011 to 2014, recently brought concrete evidence for the need of EU-wide policy actions for CVD prevention. The project analysed the latest figures and trends on CVD, in order to identify and share the most effective ways and policies for preventing these diseases.

"In the next 20 years, projections indicate that around 40 million EU citizens will have died from [cardiovascular diseases]"

Substantial differences in mortality rates were found across EU member states. Previously falling CVD mortality rates are now plateauing in some age groups in some countries, and are even rising in young people in Greece and Lithuania. Furthermore, the problem of CVD could worsen as a result of a growing incidence of high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, obesity and diabetes.

Small and eminently feasible population reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, dietary salt, saturated fat and physical inactivity could substantially decrease future coronary heart disease deaths in Europe by almost 30 per cent, thus consolidating earlier gains.

Unfortunately, adoption, implementation and evaluation of effective policies in EU member states to support said reductions in CVD risk factors remain patchy and variable. This is despite the evidence showing that such interventions are cost-effective and cost-saving. There is an imperative for policymakers to act now in order to avoid that the decline in CVD mortality, observed over the past decades, is reversed.

The EU has started up disease-specific initiatives in the framework of action on chronic diseases. A dedicated EU strategy for CVD appears appropriate today. In our view, such an initiative should continue to tackle underlying risk factors, but it should also, and very importantly, encompass research, screening and early diagnosis, cooperation and coordination in research and collection of comparable data on CVD. Such a broader approach is urgently needed.

Though health is not a competence of the EU, in the past few years the European parliament has legislated on an increasing number of crucial dossiers with high stakes for cardiovascular health. For example, the highly controversial tobacco products directive, a milestone for the preservation of EU citizens’ health and for the public perception of smoking as an important cardiovascular health hazard.

Much has been done for cardiovascular health under this parliamentary legislature. We trust that the newly elected MEPs will build on our work to make cardiovascular health an EU priority.