Conference Board says new heart health strategy could save billions of dollars

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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OTTAWA - A national plan to promote healthier living and reduce heart disease and strokes could save the country $76 billion between now and 2020 - if it meets just some of its targets - a new report says.
The Conference Board of Canada analysed the potential savings of a heart health plan put together last year by a coalition of groups, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
The strategy promotes healthier living - less smoking, more exercise, better diet - to reduce some of the underlying causes of stroke and heart disease, including obesity and diabetes.
Supporters of the plan hope the March 4 federal budget will include financing to make it a reality.
Louis Theriault, author of the board's report, said the strategy could prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and other dangerous conditions.
"The cost burden of these diseases will decrease substantially, leading to cost savings for the health system, governments and the Canadian economy," he said.
The savings could even be higher than forecast, he added, noting: "We've been conservative with our assumptions."
Dr. Charles Kerr, president of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, said the benefits go far beyond saving money.
"We must achieve these targets not only for financial reasons, but to maintain the quality of life of Canadians and to prevent unnecessary, premature death and disability."
The study looked at direct costs - hospital stays, drugs and doctors - as well as lost income from premature deaths or chronic illness. It calculated the savings by taking a do-nothing scenario and comparing it to a program which reduced conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
In 2005, the annual total cost of cardiovascular diseases was estimated at $20.9 billion. By 2020, the tab is estimated to reach $28.3 billion in constant 2008 dollars.
"We can't afford to carry on with business as usual," Theriault said. "It doesn't make economic sense."
Stephen Samis, director of health policy for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said there's an epidemic brewing which is hitting even young people, who normally aren't thought to be at risk for heart disease.
Obesity, high smoking levels among young adults, lack of exercise and rising levels of diabetes are changing the traditional picture.
"A perfect storm of risk factors and demographic changes are converging to place an unprecedented burden on Canada's fragmented system of cardiovascular care," he said.
"In a very short period of time, the face of heart disease in this country has changed to include groups that have historically been immune."
Dr. Eldon Smith, chairman of the heart health plan, said it's time to do something.
"If we don't act now, things will get worse," he said.

Organizations: Conference Board of Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Canada

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