The World Health Organization estimated that 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2005 and that, if something is not done to reverse the trend, this figure will rise to 20.5 million by 2020. The signs are not positive, with Datamonitor predicting that more than 40% of children in the US will be overweight or obese by 2013.
Part of the problem is that many people globally underestimate the threat of heart disease. In a survey published by Harvard Health Publications, half of women correctly stated that cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in women. However, only 13% categorized it as their greatest health risk. Instead, the majority cited breast cancer as their main concern, despite heart disease killing six times as many women every year.
Functional food manufacturers are attempting to rectify this problem by creating products that tout heart benefits. This has resulted in a number of interesting products that claim to actively lower cholesterol or even burn calories. However, American consumers remain skeptical about the credibility of such products, especially those which tout calorie-burning properties. When surveyed by Datamonitor, 33% considered these claims to be untrustworthy, compared to just 21% who said that they could be trusted.
Despite this, interest in 'heart healthy' products has seen an overall increase. Omega 3 has emerged as an ingredient that consumers are familiar with, and foods which claim to be low in saturated fats or low in cholesterol are increasingly popular. It is also encouraging that fewer people are smoking, as this acts as a significant risk factor.
Ensuring that our hearts are healthy in the future is a difficult task, and the signs are not all good. “It is critical that consumers do not believe that simply consuming more heart healthy products will solve all their problems. Achieving good heart health is about lifestyle as well as diet, and we are spending less time exercising,” warns Whalley. He concludes: “there are positive signs that products are getting better for our hearts but, in difficult financial times, they need to do more to convince people that they are worth the money. What’s more, people must start to take more of a long-term interest in their hearts before it is too late.”