Heart disease kills over four times as many women in Northern Ireland as breast cancer — but a study has found an alarming lack of knowledge about the condition.
A leading medical charity today said people across Northern Ireland are still in the dark about the causes and effects of heart disease, despite decades of health education.
A study carried out on behalf of Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke has found that less than a fifth of people mentioned high cholesterol as a risk factor, while only one in four people cited high blood pressure or lack of exercise as a risk.
It also discovered that a third of the population have never had their cholesterol checked.
While the survey found people regard breast cancer as the biggest threat to women’s lives, the truth is heart disease is much more deadly.
Those at both ends of the age scale — under 25s and over 65s — were least likely to identify a high fat diet and inactivity as risk factors, while only 21% of the under-25s highlighted obesity as a contributory factor.
The only risk factor cited by a majority of those surveyed was smoking.
“While we welcome the level of awareness of the terrible impact of breast cancer, we are frankly shocked that people seem to know so little about heart disease, which claims around nine lives a day in Northern Ireland,” said Andrew Dougal, chief executive of the charity.
As Have a Heart Week begins today, Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke is urging everyone to learn more about heart disease. “The problem with the lack of knowledge — among younger people especially — is that some of the risks for heart disease are already being laid down at a young age, and young people can’t leave it until middle age before changing their lifestyles,” added Mr Dougal.