Washington, D.C. - Cardiovascular experts and leading women's health advocates joined the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health today for the unveiling of The Heart Truth, the NHLBI's women's heart health awareness campaign. The national campaign aims to increase awareness about heart disease as the number one killer of women and to motivate women to take heart health seriously, talk with their doctors about it, and take steps to reduce their risks.
"Our goal is to save lives," said NHLBI Director Claude Lenfant, M.D., at the campaign's launch at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Lenfant noted that despite mounting research and advances in treatment, women are not getting the message that one of every three American women is dying of heart disease. "We hope to make women aware of the risk factors for heart disease and to motivate them - with the help of their health care professionals - to take an active role in their heart health," said Lenfant.
Less than one-third of American women recognize that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women and according to Lenfant, "this reality is not acceptable."
The Heart Truth campaign is part of the NHLBI Women's Heart Health Education Initiative. The initiative was launched in March 2001 at a strategy development workshop attended by almost 80 experts on women's health. Their charge was to develop the framework for a national action plan to reduce heart disease's toll on American women. The resulting campaign, The Heart Truth, is sponsored by NHLBI in partnership with the American Heart Association, the Office on Women's Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and other organizations committed to the health and well-being of women.
In addition to input from these partners, the campaign was informed by focus groups of women in locations throughout the country, and based on available research about women's awareness and knowledge about heart disease and its risk factors. Such research indicates that when American women hear the term "heart disease" their immediate and first reaction is that "it is not my problem; it is a man's health issue."
In addition, women are more worried about cancer than heart disease - especially breast cancer. According to a survey commissioned by the National Council on the Aging, only 9 percent of women ages 45 to 64 name heart disease as the condition they most fear - while 61 percent name breast cancer.
Yet, heart disease, which includes coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, angina, and other conditions, is the leading cause of death in American women. Each year, about 375, 000 women die of heart disease. Furthermore, about 3 million women have had a heart attack. Two-thirds of women who have a heart attack don't make a full recovery.
NHLBI's scientific research underscores the growing need for women to increase their awareness, and action, regarding heart disease. According to focus groups and other research, women do not think that heart disease risk factors - smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol, family history, and being overweight - are directly linked to heart disease.
"Every day women are diagnosed with, disabled by, or die of heart disease - a preventable disease. We need to get the message out to all women that by getting off those extra pounds and regaining a renewed sense of energy from regular exercise, we can also have healthier hearts. In addition, women need to visit and talk to their physicians on a regular basis so medical conditions that increase their risk - such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol - can be identified and appropriately treated," says Susan Bennett, M.D., director of clinical research with Cardiology Associates and chair of the 2001 women's heart health education strategy development workshop.
The Heart Truth campaign, rolling out this fall, includes women-targeted consumer television, radio, and print public service advertisements, which use hard-hitting visuals and testimonials to deliver a wake-up call and help women focus on both their "outer" and "inner" selves. The PSAs are supplemented with consumer materials including a brochure on heart disease (available through 1-800-575-WELL); a comprehensive Healthy Heart Handbook for Women; a speaker's kit to assist community leaders and interested consumers in spreading the word about heart disease to women at the local level; and Web pages on NHLBI's Web site, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/. Complementing the consumer campaign is an initiative to alert health care providers about the effort and encourage them to speak with their women patients about heart disease.