Two experts recently delivered insightful presentations about an alarming trend in Ghana and other sub-Saharan African countries: the rising incidence of heart disease among young people.

Dr. Winfred Baah, Consultant Physician at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, and Pearl Exornam Selormey, a Registered Dietician Nutritionist both agreed that traditionally viewed as an ailment of the elderly, heart disease is now making significant inroads into younger populations, a shift supported by global and regional data.

During his detailed presentation during the 12th Leadership Dialogue Series organized the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) on June 6, 2024, Dr Baah cited a retrospective study from a Nairobi university hospital, which found that 27.2% of hospitalized acute coronary syndrome patients were 50 years or younger, with over half being smokers.

Dr Baah noted that the situation in Ghana reflects a broader global trend where 13.9 million children and young people are affected by heart disease.

“The early onset of heart disease in young individuals generally leads to a poor prognosis,” Dr. Baah warned during the virtual event. “Many young people do not seek medical care and often present with advanced disease stages, making management more difficult.”

Pearl Exornam Selormey delved into the kinds of foods linked to heart diseases and how adopting healthy eating habits can tackle the prevalence of heart disease among young people.

Citing data from the World Diabetes Centre for Ghana, she said about 50% of Ghanaian women are obese, with obesity being a major risk factor of heart disease.

“When I saw the data, I was a bit frightened. It means that we have a very high number of our women population having the very high risk factor for heart disease,” she said.

Key Drivers of Heart Disease Among Young Ghanaians

During their separate presentations, both experts identified several lifestyle factors contributing to the rise of heart disease among Ghanaians aged 18 to 45.

These include:

  • Obesity and Poor Diet: Increasing consumption of unhealthy foods.
  • Physical Inactivity: Sedentary lifestyles are becoming more common.
  • Substance Use: Rising use of smoking, including cigarettes and shisha, and other substances such as cocaine, opioids, electronic cigarettes, anabolic steroids, and glue.

“The smoking of shisha is becoming very common, especially among young women, due to the misconception that it is healthier than cigarette smoking,” Dr. Baah noted. “Studies have shown that shisha smoking is a significant risk factor for heart disease.”

The Socioeconomic Impact

The increasing prevalence of heart disease among younger adults has profound implications. Financially, it burdens both individuals in their prime working years and the national healthcare system.

Socially, it leads to premature deaths, disabilities, and reduced quality of life, affecting employment and causing emotional issues such as depression and anxiety.

Strategies to Combat the Trend

To address this growing health crisis, the experts recommend a multifaceted approach:

  1. Healthcare System Adaptation: Africa’s healthcare systems, traditionally focused on infectious diseases, must pivot to address non-communicable diseases like heart disease.
  2. Preventive Care and Education: Public health campaigns should shift focus to preventive care, promoting awareness of heart disease risk factors through media, the internet, and other communication channels.
  3. School-Based Interventions: Educational programs in schools should incorporate comprehensive substance abuse education, coping mechanisms against peer pressure, and awareness of the risks associated with substance use.
  4. National Health Campaigns: Initiatives to encourage healthier dietary behaviors and regular medical check-ups must be intensified. Additionally, integrating cardiovascular and metabolic disease education into school curricula can help instill health-conscious attitudes from a young age.
  5. A shift towards healthy eating habits.

The dietician and the physician want young people to realign their resources and efforts towards combating non-communicable diseases.

“By increasing public awareness and refocusing our health campaigns, we can mitigate the impact of heart disease among young Ghanaians and secure a healthier future for our nation,” Dr Baah admonished.