More than one in three people living in the Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands suffer from heart disease – the highest rate in Australia.
The Illawarra was also classified as a region of high risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the National Heart Foundation report released on Thursday, with almost one in four residents with the condition.
Heart Foundation Illawarra and Shoalhaven health promotion co-ordinator Andy Mark said there were a number of contributing factors which raised the risk for the three regions.
‘‘We know from this data that you are 32 per cent more likely to have CVD if you live in a regional or remote area than if you live in Sydney,’’ he said.
‘‘That’s because the access to medical services is not as good and we know from our research that people in regional areas are less likely to see their GP and get a heart health check than their city counterparts.
‘‘They are also less likely to call an ambulance because of the distance that may be required to travel to the nearest hospital.’’
Mr Mark said the high numbers of retirees settling in the Shoalhaven, Southern Highlands and Illawarra also affected the figures, with age a major contributing factor to heart disease.
‘‘CVD is a narrowing of the arteries and as we age that occurs naturally, although some of our lifestyle behaviours can increase that happening, such as if you smoke, have a diet high in saturated fat, if you consume too much salt, if you’re not active,’’ he said.
Mr Mark said the figures for the Shoalhaven were also affected by the high proportion of people of low socio-economic status in the region.
‘‘The lower our level of education, the lower the level of wages, these things have an impact on our health and on the risk of CVD in particular,’’ he said.
The Heart Foundation’s geographical snapshot of heart disease will help government and health agencies combat the problem.
‘‘With the CVD prevalence maps we have for the first time a visual map of how CVD risk factors are spread across the country,’’ Mr Mark said.
‘‘It will allow us to identify areas where greater need and resources are required, such as the Shoalhaven and Illawarra where we already have staff based.
‘‘And we hope people in the regions classified as higher risk will start to consider their need to have a heart health check and make healthy lifestyle changes.’’
Meantime, Throsby MP Stephen Jones and Cunningham MP Sharon Bird said the regional risks should give the federal government further cause to rethink its ‘‘GP tax’’.
‘‘According to the Heart Foundation, 350,000 fewer adults would have cardiovascular disease if we could bring regional rates of (CVD) down,’’ Mr Jones said.
Ms Bird added: ‘‘In regional Australia, where access to GPs and health professionals is more difficult, the Abbott government’s GP tax is another major obstacle for people visiting their doctor.’’