Though Canadians are dying from heart disease and stroke at lower rates than in decades past, these remain the second and third biggest killers in the country and many risk factors are ubiquitous and trending upwards. In Canada, 9 out of 10 people have at least one major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and 4 in 10 have three or more risk factors.

“There is a great need for awareness regarding the risk factors of cardiovascular disease,” says Minister of Health Jane Philpott. “People just aren’t aware of the risk factors and how they can be controlled.” Uncontrollable factors like age and genetics are important, but they are vastly overshadowed by controllable factors like eating an unhealthy diet, hypertension, lack of exercise, stress, and smoking. These are the kinds of things that Canadians have in their power to change. Staying the course with unhealthy habits can be fatal.

Increasing awareness about cardiovascular health and improving access to heart health education are thus among the most important things we can do to help Canadians live longer and healthier lives.

A mandate for heart health education

“The prime minister has given me a mandate to help empower people to make healthy choices,” says Minister Philpott. “In part that means educating people about a healthy diet through initiatives like Canada’s Food Guide. The other area that we need to do a lot of work on is physical activity. We as Canadians have this increasingly sedentary lifestyle. There needs to be a focus on physical activity from infancy right through to older adulthood.”

The good news is that Canadians are becoming more active and engaged participants in their own cardiovascular health. “There are a lot of Canadians who have figured out that learning about and understanding their own health can be both useful and interesting to them,” says Minister Philpott. And with that knowledge comes the power to live a long and healthy life.

Equal access for all Canadians

Beyond raising awareness, there is also a need to improve access to the life-saving health care services, medications, and technologies that have helped the medical community reduce the mortality rate of cardiovascular disease over recent decades. The unfortunate reality is that not all Canadians have equal access to cardiovascular care, whether due to location, economic conditions, or other factors. These issues can be especially pronounced in First Nations communities, where preventing avoidable illnesses is a huge priority for the Minister of Health.

“We won’t be able to entirely eliminate cardiovascular disease,” says Minister Philpott. “But so much of it can be prevented.”