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Key Statistics: Risk factors for heart disease

Key takeaways

Many different risk factors increase your likelihood of developing Cardiovascular disease (CVD).

2 min read

There are many different risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing a cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease.  

Key risk factors that contribute to heart conditions, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are largely preventable. Unfortunately, most people do not associate these key risk factors with their heart health. 

Explore the latest statistics relating to cardiovascular disease risk factors below: 

High Blood Pressure2 

High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a common condition of the circulatory system and is widely recognised as the leading risk factor for CVD¹. 

  • One third of Australian adults have high blood pressure (33.7%), with 1.2 times as many males living with hypertension than females (36.2% compared to 31.3%). 

  • Prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age, with almost four out of five adults living with hypertension by the age of 75 years. 

  • Despite high prevalence, just 4% of adults nominate high blood pressure as a key risk factor for heart disease³. 

High Cholesterol2 

High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for developing CVD. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance necessary to make hormones and vitamin D, and to help you digest food. Your body produces cholesterol, and it’s also in some foods.   

  • More than two in five (41.9%) Australian adults are living with high cholesterol. 

  • Prevalence of high cholesterol is highest amongst those aged 55 to 64 years of age. 

  • Unfortunately, only eight percent of adults nominate high cholesterol as a key risk factor for heart disease3. 

Being Overweight or Obese2 

You’re classified overweight if your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or over.  

  • Two in three (67%) Australian adults are overweight or obese, with the prevalence of overweight and obesity increasing over time. 

  • Prevalence of overweight and obesity is almost 25 percent higher in males (74.5%) than females (59.7%), with these proportions increasing for both males and females over time. 

  • Despite such large proportions of Australian adults being overweight or obese, just three in ten adults believe that being overweight or obese is a key risk factor to developing heart disease3. 

Smoking2 

The smoking statistics below are about ‘current smokers’, which is defined as a person that smokes daily, weekly, or less than weekly.  

  • Almost three million people over 15 years of age are current smokers, with the prevalence of smoking trending downwards. 

  • Smoking rates are higher for males over 15 years of age (17.6%) than females (11.7%), with the largest share of current smokers being females aged 45 to 64 years and males aged 25-44 years. 

  • One third (33%) of adults believe that smoking is a key risk factor to developing heart disease3. 

Physical Inactivity2 

Physical inactivity refers to people not getting the recommended level of regular physical activity, based on self-reported exercise and workplace activity. 

  • Four in every five (83%) adults do not meet national physical activity guidelines, with females being slightly more likely than males to fail to meet physical activity guidelines (84.2%) compared to males (81.2%). 

  • While the majority of people do not meet the physical activity guidelines, just one in seven (14.5%) do no form of physical activity. Unfortunately, this proportion has been rising over time. 

  • Although such a large proportion of Australian adults do not meet physical activity guidelines, just two in five adults believe that a lack of exercise is a key risk factor to heart disease3. 

Alcohol Consumption2 

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than ten standard drinks a week, or a maximum of four standard drinks on any one day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury. 

  • More than three million adults exceed alcohol consumption guidelines, with men being twice as likely as women to exceed these guidelines. 

  • Despite high rates of excessive alcohol consumption by adult males, this has been decreasing over time. 

  • Males aged 55 to 64 years and females aged 35-44 are most likely to exceed alcohol guidelines. 

  • Sadly, just one in ten Australian adults believe that alcohol consumption is a key risk factor to heart disease3. 

Diet 

Unhealthy diet is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease in Australia. Australians of all ages generally do not eat enough of the five food groups and eat too many junk foods high in salt, fat and sugar.  

What you eat and drink impacts on several heart disease risk factors such as your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. 

  • Ninety-two percent of Australian adults do not meet the recommended intake for vegetables (5+ servings of vegetables a day)5, with this proportion increasing over the past two decades. 

  • The average Australian adult eats 2.4 serves of vegetables per day, which is less than half the recommended amount5. 

  • Improving vegetable intake to meet the recommended five serves per day is estimated to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 16.6%6. 

References 

1. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 2018, Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Results, Global Burden of Disease collective Network, Seattle, available from http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-results-tool 

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018, National Health Survey 2017-18, Data customised using TableBuilder. 

3. Heart Foundation HeartWatch Survey, June 2020 

4. Prevalence of high cholesterol is defined as all Australian adults that had high measured total cholesterol, and/or self-reported as having high cholesterol. 

5. Heart Foundation Dietary Position Statements 2020, available from https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/activities-finding-or-opinion/food-and-nutrition-position-statements 

6. Deloitte Access Economics, 2016. The impact of increasing vegetable consumption on health expenditure. Prepared for Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited. Available from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-increasing-vegetable-consumption-health-expenditure-impact-040716.pdf 

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