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American Heart Month 2013: Reflections on improving women's cardiovascular health

Gary H. Gibbons, M.D. - February 26, 2013

NHLBI staff in a group; celebrities in a group on the runway; Dr. Collins and Dr. Gibbons hold up red t-shirts
Clockwise from left: NHLBI staff wear red in support of women's heart health awareness on Feb. 1; celebrities honor women's journeys toward heart health at the Red Dress Collection Fashion Show in New York City on Feb. 6; and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and NHLBI Director Dr. Gary H. Gibbons show their support for National Wear Red Day and American Heart Month.

At the NHLBI, we share a passion with many of you for reducing and preventing heart disease among women. It's part of our mission to apply new knowledge toward improving public health outcomes in all communities. American Heart Month offers an opportunity to appreciate the advancements we have made together, as well as take a step back and think about how we can do even better.

The NHLBI has long been at the forefront of research, training, and education in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular disease in women, supporting studies such as the Women’s Health Initiative, the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation study, and the Women’s Health Study that provide critical insights and lead to changes in clinical practice to improve women's lives.

Advances in our scientific understanding of heart disease must then lead to action for the patient, which is why the NHLBI has been leading The Heart Truth public health education program these past 11 years. The program has achieved what all national public health programs aspire to by becoming a social movement embraced across the country. The program has more than 130 partners and has reached millions of women who now know that heart disease is their #1 killer. What's more, according to an American Heart Association survey, 54 percent of women now say that heart disease is their leading cause of death, up from 34 percent in 2000. The survey also shows a positive relationship between that awareness and taking action to reduce risk.

In our most recent strategic decision for the program, we reviewed the evidence and determined that we need a greater emphasis on health disparities through multicultural education, resources, and community-based heart health interventions for ethnically diverse groups—especially African American and Hispanic women, who are at increased risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.

Beginning with National Wear Red Day on Feb. 1, women and men across the nation demonstrated their support for women's heart disease awareness throughout the month of February. I had the privilege of joining U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin as well as partners from the American College of Cardiology, Diet Coke, Web MD, HSN, Black Entertainment Television (BET) Networks, and many others at the Red Dress Collection 2013 Fashion Show. The show kicked off Fashion Week in New York City to increase awareness among a nationwide audience that wouldn't otherwise hear this message. We also held two live social media chats, one in English and one in Spanish, to answer questions about heart disease.

With more than a decade of experience in increasing women's awareness, we are at a crossroads where we are asked to look at what we've accomplished and consider what else can and should be accomplished. We are fortunate to live in an era of unprecedented opportunities for scientific innovation and for strengthening partnerships. The more we can work together and learn from one another, the more successful we will be in reducing and preventing heart disease among all women in the years to come.

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