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March 2013

Cardiovascular diseases and the search for more evidence

Ami Banerjee
Last edited 20th March 2013

Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar this year for his depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s role in the abolition of slavery in the USA. As I watched Lincoln on the plane crossing the Atlantic, I wondered how many inequalities still exist in health and whether laws are the best way to reduce or abolish these inequalities.

Looking at just cardiovascular diseases, inequalities have been highlighted at local, regional, national and international levels, whether on the basis of gender, age, socioeconomic status or race. We have known about the major risk factors which cause cardiovascular disease for over 50 years, and yet some of these inequalities still pose significant challenges in many parts of the globe. An example from the UK is the recent study showing regional variations in mortality from cardiovascular disease in each electoral ward.

So do we not have enough evidence to act? Do we need to keep producing more research to show that inequalities and variations still exist? Of course, the answer is that we need to keep producing evidence, not just to understand the causes, “the causes of the causes” and in order to plan the best strategies to tackle these inequalities. Moreover, the evidence needs to be presented in new ways to reach the hearts and minds of policymakers in order to enact change.

In Circulation this week, Ezatti and colleagues consider the effect of macroeconomic changes on cardiovascular risk factors over time at the global level for hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolaemia and obesity. At the country level, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol and body-mass index were positively associated with gross domestic product (GDP) and Western diet in 1980, whereas only total cholesterol remained positively associated with GDP in 2008. In an accompanying editorial, I make the point that existing surveillance systems for cardiovascular disease and its risk factors at global level are inadequate. This week, I am at the American Heart Association Cardiovascular Epidemiology and Prevention Meeting in New Orleans, learning about new data and new ways of presenting the data regarding cardiovascular diseases. Relating changes in cardiovascular disease to economic and macroeconomic change seems a promising strategy to get the attention of policymakers.

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