Despite being the leading cause of death worldwide, cardiovascular diseases have not received as much attention as other public health issues such as cancer. Notably, the European Union pledged to improve the prevention and care of cancer with the publication of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan in 2021, while the cardiovascular disease community has yet to see such a commitment.
So what is behind the lack of political action? It may reflect the perceptions of the wider population. Cancer incites fear. It is seen as an enemy that unpredictably arises from the outside and has devastating consequences for the people affected, as well as their loved ones. In comparison, heart disease is often seen as something that is more under one’s personal control; it does not seem to create as strong a sense of fear as cancer, even among people living with known risk factors.
People tend to be aware of the role of lifestyle in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. When it comes to cancer, however, prevention is often overlooked and genetics are seen as a key cause. In reality, up to 50% of cancer cases are said to be preventable. Smoking, alcohol and obesity are the biggest contributors to cancer across the world – and these risk factors are all shared with cardiovascular disease.
Policymakers are likely not exempt from these perceptions, which influence their sense of urgency and impact decision-making. Public health officials across Europe rate the attitude within the population as the most important obstacle to improving cardiovascular health, rather than political or organisational factors.