A new study shows more than one in four New Zealanders over the age of 25 are at risk of developing a stroke during their lifetimes - the second-highest rate among developed countries.
The study shows that New Zealand has the second highest lifetime risk of stroke among developed countries (26.4 percent), ahead of Canada (24.4 percent), the United States (23.7 percent), United Kingdom (21.2 percent) and Australia (21 percent). The highest is Finland (29.3 percent).
The study's lead author Professor Valery Feigin, Director of the National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences at Auckland University of Technology, says this could be related to the significant proportion of Māori and Pacific peoples in New Zealand, who have more than double the risk of stroke compared to Europeans.
He says the risk in New Zealand has increased by 5 percent over the last three decades.
“This is worrisome … the health minister and other policy makers should pay more attention to primary stroke prevention.”
Discussing the study, Feigin says the lifetime risk of stroke is not significantly different between man and woman which wasn’t before and remains relatively constant between age 25 and 75.
He says this has important implications and that "the intensity of primary stroke prevention should not be diminished with age and no difference by sex".
“I think these findings are likely to change our current practice of primary stroke prevention across the globe,” he says.
He also says young people need to think about long-term health risks because the stroke is getting younger.
“There is a lot they can do to modify their risk of stroke, such as eating a healthier diet with more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, increasing physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight.”
Feigin says the stroke is one of the most preventable health conditions in the world.
“Up to 90 percent of strokes can be avoided… If people know their risk, know their risk factors and how to control them, it can be avoided.”
To bring the number down, Feigin says primary prevention of stroke needs to include all people at risk of stroke and not only those at high absolute risk which is currently taking place here in New Zealand and some other countries.
Up to 80 percent of all strokes and heart attacks are happening to people who have a low to moderate risk, he says.
Feigin says health practitioners need to move away from general recommendations to start introducing individual life recommendations.