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Health check-up for Christmas?

14 December, 2006

Health check-up for Christmas?

Internet survey shows 6.7% have “high” cardiovascular risk

Up to 195,000 kiwis should be planning a visit to their doctor, according to the results of New Zealand’s biggest ever online health test.

Nearly seven per cent of those completing the Southern Cross Health Test had a cardiovascular disease (heart attack or stroke) risk of around 10% or higher in the next five years. And that’s the threshold at which they should be seeking medical advice, according to epidemiologist Professor Rod Jackson of Auckland University.

Dr Jackson compiled the Southern Cross Health Test initially for September’s Test The Nation programme on TV ONE. In the weeks following the programme more than 21,000 people completed the test online, creating a rich snapshot of factors relating to New Zealanders’ health.

Dark Blue Milk

Professor Jackson says one of the key results that stood out to him from analysis of the test results was the 21.3% of people whose preferred milk option was the dark blue variety.

“By substituting one 200ml serving of standard dark blue top milk with a reduced fat green top variety per day, those people will consume around 1.3kgs less of saturated fat in a year. And their calorie intake will decrease by over 14,000 – or roughly 6 days worth of energy for a moderately active adult male.

“That kind of reduction in saturated fat and calorie consumption could mean a measurable reduction in blood cholesterol levels and weight, which in turn will reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.”

Professor Jackson says New Zealanders could also lower saturated fat intake by reducing consumption or choosing lower saturated fat alternatives in a number of other areas. This was particularly true of people who use butter as their preferred spread on bread and crackers (10.8% of respondents), ate 3 or more scoops of full fat ice cream a week (12.7%) and ate four or more slices of cheese a week (32.2%).

“Saturated fat consumption is the biggest cause of high blood cholesterol, which is one of the key lifestyle risk factors in cardiovascular disease risk. These results demonstrate why the average New Zealander’s diet contains more saturated fat than almost any other country in the world, which is why we have one of the world’s worst death rates from cardiovascular disease.”

The Age Impact

The Southern Cross Health Test results also highlights the impact age has on cardiovascular disease risk, says Professor Jackson. While the average risk of heart attack and stroke in the next five years for all men was less than 2.5%, the average risk rises towards 10% for men aged over 45 years. Women had better cardiovascular health, with an average risk for all women of less than 1.25%, and still just 3.5% for women aged over 55 years. The longer you are exposed to cardiovascular risk factors the worse your risk gets, and New Zealand is a risky place for your cardiovascular system.

“If you’re stuck for a present for Dad this Christmas and he is 45 years or older, you might consider giving him an all-expenses-paid trip to the doctor,” Professor Jackson says. “Those who would benefit most from a check-up are over 45 for men and over 55 for females – especially if they smoke, are overweight, don’t exercise regularly and have diets rich in saturated fat.

That advice is endorsed by Dr Ian McPherson, Chief Executive of the country’s largest private healthcare group, Southern Cross Healthcare. “Getting Kiwi blokes to the doctor can be a challenge even when they’re ill, so motivating them to go along when they aren’t showing any symptoms of illness can be mission impossible. What they don’t often realise is that in one third of cardiovascular disease cases, the first symptom of problems is death.”

Professor Jackson and Dr McPherson had further season-appropriate advice for everyone else:

“Everyone’s health can benefit in the long term from lower blood cholesterol. So when it comes to New Year’s resolutions, right after the perennial favourites of giving up smoking and exercising more, our recommendation would be to give up blue top milk and butter, and cut down on other sources of saturated fat, as your next big priorities for 2007.”

Online test

Dr McPherson says the online Southern Cross Health Test is still proving popular, more than two months after it was used in the Test The Nation programme. Available online at The test is based on a system used by GP’s to assess patients risk of cardiovascular disease.

The test focuses on cardiovascular disease risk because it’s the leading cause of death in New Zealand and is preventable in many cases.

The test uses questions about lifestyle choices - such as diet, exercise and smoking - as indicators of cardiovascular disease risks like elevated blood cholesterol and blood pressure. These risk scores are added to scores related to age, gender, ethnicity and physical characteristics to provide a person with an indication of their possible cardiovascular disease risk.


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