Heart health worse in the country than metro

Peter Hill

REGIONAL Victorians are at greater risk of avoidable death from heart disease than their metropolitan counterparts, with Gippslanders the third highest cohort for heart disease deaths.

Taking in the local government areas of East Gippsland, Wellington, Latrobe Valley, South Gippsland, Bass Coast and Baw Baw, the Heart Foundation’s region SA4 Latrobe-Gippsland presents a frightening set of statistics.

The rate of coronary heart disease deaths in Latrobe-Gippsland is 71 per 100,000, which is 16 per cent per cent higher than the state average.

The rate of heart attack hospitalisations in Latrobe-Gippsland is 13 per 10,000 which is about the state’s average.

Almost 40 per cent of people living in Latrobe-Gippsland are obese, which is 22 per cent higher than the state average.

One in five people living in Latrobe-Gippsland smoke, which is 31 per cent higher than the state average.

It is little consolation for Gippslanders, but the Shepparton region tops the state for heart health hotspots.

Australian Heart Maps online data show the rate of hospitalisations for heart attack (17.4 per 10,000 people) and coronary heart disease (55.9 per 10,000 people) in the Shepparton region is around 70 per cent higher than the state’s lowest region – Melbourne’s inner east.

In fact, the data shows the top five regions with the highest rates across three out of four risk factors for heart disease are all in regional Victoria.

Lighting up as the state and nation’s top regional smoking hotspot, north-west Victoria’s smoking rate of 22.2 per cent is more than double that of Melbourne’s more affluent inner east region.

Victoria’s top three regions for obesity rates now also rank in Australia’s top 10, Shepparton region (ranking fifth), Ballarat region (ranking seventh), and Latrobe-Gippsland (10th).

The Ballarat region, which includes the Maryborough, Beauford, Daylesford and Ballan areas, has significant obesity rates of 38.7 per cent, while the Latrobe-Gippsland region is only slightly lower at 38.2 per cent.

Of the top five regions with the lowest coronary heart disease deaths, all are in metropolitan Melbourne.

Perhaps surprisingly, Melbourne headed the state’s rankings for the top three most physically active regions.

Heart Foundation chief executive officer for Victoria, Kellie-Ann Jolly, said when it came to heart health, a great divide existed between Victoria’s regional communities and their metro counterparts.

“What these alarming figures tell us is that social and economic disadvantage matter for your heart,” Ms Jolly said.

“Victorians who live in the state’s most disadvantaged areas are more likely to have significant risk factors, be hospitalised for heart attack or die from coronary heart disease.

“We know better heart health is linked with secure work, safe affordable housing, good education, access to healthy food and appropriate health services.

“The burden of heart disease weighs heavy on us all, and so it’s time to act to close the metro-regional divide.

“We need government, communities, industry and individuals working together to address these inequalities.

“The Heart Foundation is committed to seeing these numbers fall.

“We will continue to work with key decisionmakers to target areas for ‘best buy’ investments in preventative health, support and care services.”

As Victorians finally approach a COVID-normal summer, Ms Jolly urged people to understand their personal risks for heart disease and take steps to address them.

“We know people may have put off seeing a doctor this year, but it’s time now to make that appointment.

“If you’re 45 years and over, or from age 30 if you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, I urge you to talk to your GP about having a heart health check.”

To find out more about heart health, visit heartfoundation.org.au.

Central Gippsland Health was approached for comment, but was unable to provide information before deadline. Its website has heart health advice in its population health features.