Swiss health organisations have joined forces to protect future generations against cardiovascular disease, Europe's leading cause of death.
Every year 50,000 people die of cardiovascular disease in Switzerland and it is also a major cause of disability and of reduced quality of life.
Representatives of 14 organisations came together in Bern to sign the European Heart Health Charter, which aims to reduce the incidence of preventable heart disease. Swiss president and health minister Pascal Couchepin attended the event.
The charter sets out to substantially reduce heart disease not only in the European Union but in the European region as a whole, and to unite countries in tackling the common risk factors.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that modest population-wide reductions in blood pressure, obesity, cholesterol and tobacco use would more than halve the incidence of heart disease.
The Heart Health Charter aims to make these changes happen. Signatories to the charter agree to prioritise preventative measures which concentrate on lifestyle changes.
Speaking at the signing ceremony in Bern, Ludwig von Segesser, head of the Swiss Cardiology Foundation, said particular attention must be paid to the younger generation.
"We have to motivate them to adopt a healthy lifestyle and allow them the opportunity to grow up in an environment favourable to health."
"International comparison shows that our health system is the most expensive in the world after the US. We have to ask ourselves if the SFr52 billion ($50.6 billion) that we inject every year is well invested and if the priorities are correct," von Segesser added.
Various calculation models have put the cost of cardiovascular disease in Switzerland at between SFr3.6 and SFr5.6 billion per year.
Seated at the same podium, Couchepin - who is responsible for nation's health budget- lent his support to the heart health initiative. He placed particular emphasis on smoking and said his goal was to reduce the proportion of smokers in Switzerland, from 29 per cent to 21 per cent.
Women in danger
Hugo Saner, Bern-based cardiologist and president of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, told swissinfo that the death rate from heart disease had increased among women under the age of 50, young overweight adults and diabetics.
"It is highly under recognised that women are as much in danger of getting cardiovascular disease as men. Because we don't think about cardiovascular disease in women, chest pain is not diagnosed as myocardial infarction [heart attack] and treatment opportunities are less for women," he said.
The heart charter is based on the aspiration that every child born in the new millennium has the right to live until the age of at least 65 without suffering avoidable cardiovascular disease.
Saner insists that cardiovascular disease is not a normal part of the ageing process and that the goals of the charter really are achievable in practice, not just in theory.
swissinfo, Clare O'Dea
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death among women and men in Europe.
The main, well-known risk factors for cardiovascular disease are tobacco use and raised blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
These factors are directly related to individual lifestyle and eating habits as well as physical activity levels.
Other factors associated with cardiovascular disease include being overweight or obese, diabetes mellitus, excessive alcohol consumption and psychosocial stress.
Characteristics associated with cardiovascular health include:
No use of tobacco,
Adequate physical activity – at least 30 minutes 5 times a week,
Healthy eating habits,
Blood pressure below 140/90,
Blood cholesterol below 5 mmol/L (190mg/dl),
Normal glucose metabolism,
Avoidance of excessive stress.
European Heart Charter
The European Heart Health Charter has been signed by 14 European bodies in the field of health promotion.
The aim of the charter is to substantially reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the European Union and the WHO European region and to reduce inequities and inequalities in disease burden within and between countries.