South Africans have one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide. Called the "silent killer" due to very few signs or symptoms, it is often too late when people discover they have high blood pressure. In fact, one in three South African adults, 15 years or older has hypertension and the majority of them are unaware that they have the condition. High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart disease and strokes, with statistics showing that there are about 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes daily in South Africa.
It's for this reason that the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) SA is offering free blood pressure tests over Heart Awareness month. In partnership with Clicks, they are offering free blood pressure tests for the public at all Clicks Clinics nationwide by appointment for the month of September.
HSF is also encouraging South Africans to lower their salt intake by adding less salt to their food when cooking, tasting their food before they add salt and adding less salt to their food at the table.
"South Africans eat far too much salt, more than double the recommended daily allowance," says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.
"And what they don't realise is that a high salt diet is a key contributor to high blood pressure and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes for heart disease or stroke."
In many South African communities salt use and consumption is linked with health, cultural and spiritual beliefs. "In traditional, lower to lower-middle income communities, there is a widely held belief that salt has considerable health benefits, particularly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Additionally, there are some strong beliefs in rural and lower income communities that food left unsalted will be eaten by the Tokolosh," says Mungal-Singh.
"In rural and township communities, salt is added liberally to food as it is considered a cheap flavourant. It is also added generously to meat to preserve it from the elements, which is particularly common amongst road side butchers. These cultural perceptions and practices around salt are another challenge we are faced with in South Africa."
Fortunately, in 2013 the Minister of Health signed legislation to make salt reduction in the food industry mandatory, helping to achieve the government’s target to reduce salt intake to less than 5g a day by 2020. This makes South Africa the first country globally to legislate salt levels to help reduce the amount of salt that the public takes in from processed foods.
Every hour in South Africa, five people have heart attacks, 10 people have strokes and 10 people die from heart disease and stroke. But the good news is that 80 percent of these premature deaths (before the age of 60) can be prevented with a healthy balanced diet, being physically active regularly and avoiding smoking. Take your health into your hands from today by going for a free blood pressure test and lowering your salt intake.
Book an appointment at any Clicks Clinic for a FREE blood pressure test during the month of September. Call 0860 254 257 to book an appointment. For more information about heart health, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (43278).