Researchers warn COVID-19 stress could increase heart disease

There's concern stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could increase the rates of heart disease.

The warning comes from public health researchers at Otago University, who are calling for broader action by the Government.

The researchers from the university's Wellington campus are concerned by the pandemics flow-on effects that are known to produce poor cardiovascular health.

Anja Mizdrack from the Public Health Department says unemployment can be a leading factor.

"We've seen as part of the COVID-19 pandemic that there's been an increase in unemployment and really this is something to watch out for in terms of increased risk of heart disease."

Analysing research from previous recessions around the world, revealed stress, and job loss often leads to an increase in heart disease and death.

"Involuntary unemployment tends to lead to people being in more financially insecure positions," says Mizdrack.

"And that brings about a whole bunch of stress, and we know that stress is one of the things that can increase risk of heart disease."

Those risks were higher for middle-aged men. 

With unemployment rising, demand for counselling and budgeting services is at an all-time high.

Mangere Budgeting Services has a healthy kai cooking programme, to help their Māori and Pasifika clients cook healthier food on a tight budget. CEO Darryl Evans says they see high levels of heart disease.

"We've always seen higher levels of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol."

Otago's public health researchers want more Government intervention.

Mizdrack says regulations and medication are ways the government can help reduce heart disease. 

"Having regulation to reformulate and reduce levels of salt and saturated fats in foods and also improving access to medications that we know help." 

They also want more progress towards a smoke-free 2025, all measures they believe would improve health and save lives.