Program Background

The Heart Truth® (, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, is a national education program for women that raises awareness about heart disease and its risk factors and educates and motivates them to take action to prevent the disease. Through the program, launched in 2002, the NHLBI leads the Nation in a landmark heart health movement embraced by millions who share the common goal of better heart health for all women.

The centerpiece of The Heart Truth is the Red Dress®, which was created by the NHLBI and introduced as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2002. The Red Dress® is a powerful red alert that inspires women to learn more about their personal risk for heart disease and take action to protect their heart health.

The Heart Truth is a science-based health education program built on a strong foundation of formative research. Informed by health behavior and health communications theory, the program’s underlying strategy is to implement a brand-driven social marketing mix of national programming and community interventions to raise awareness of heart disease and drive behavior change among the primary target audience—American women ages 40 to 60. The program's objectives recognize the critical need to eliminate health inequities by placing an emphasis on reaching African American and Hispanic women with heart health awareness messages and science-based public education information.

The Heart Truth's strategic framework is built on three pillars: national-level awareness-raising activities, community activation, and partnerships. From this framework, multiple tactics are developed, implemented, and evaluated to achieve The Heart Truth's objectives. National-level activities, such as National Wear Red Day®, are designed to broadly raise awareness of heart disease and its risk factors among American women. Community activation, including The Heart Truth's Community Action and Champions programs, provides community—level education to women of color and low income. Using multicultural, science—based resources, these programs help motivate women to make healthy lifestyle behavior changes. Partnerships with a wide variety of organizations—community, media, corporate, Government, nonprofit, and health professional—leverage The Heart Truth’s outreach to its target audience, amplify the program’s key public health messages, and support national activities and community programming.

The Heart Truth is one of the Nation's most successful and impactful public health education initiatives. The program has contributed to an increased awareness among women that heart disease is their leading cause of death—a 2012 American Heart Association survey showed that such awareness nearly doubled over the past 12 years, from 30 percent to 56 percent. The Red Dress symbol has achieved broad recognition and engaged the support of a significant portfolio of national-and local-level partners that contribute to achieving The Heart Truth’s goal. The NHLBI’s research and resulting science-based public health messaging and materials are helping women across the country learn to recognize their personal risk for heart disease and take behavioral action to protect their heart health.

Articles on The Heart Truth

Social Marketing Quarterly featured The Heart Truth in its Fall 2008 edition. The program is profiled in six original articles co-authored by members of The Heart Truth team and explores various aspects of the program. The articles cover everything from research and branding to social media marketing and partnerships. Also included is a peer-reviewed article on the program from its inception to the work that continues today as well as the team's top 10 insights into the program's success. In addition, below is a peer-reviewed case study titled "Using Social Media to Reach Women with The Heart Truth," which is incorporated in George Washington University's Cases in Public Health Communication & Marketing.

Social Marketing Quarterly Abstract pdf document(PDF 30KB)
Social Marketing Quarterly Abstract (HTML)
Social Marketing Quarterly Full Article external disclaimer (HTML)
"Using Social Media to Reach Women with The Heart Truth" Case Study pdf document (PDF 309KB)
"Using Social Media to Reach Women with The Heart Truth" Case Study (HTML)


  • Fifteen-Year Trends in Awareness of Heart Disease in Women
    A 2012 survey from the American Heart Association shows that more women are getting the message that heart disease is their leading cause of death. According to the survey, 56 percent of American women know that heart disease is their leading killer, up from 30 percent in 1997, 34 percent in 2000, 46 percent in 2003, and 54 percent in 2009. The 2009 survey also showed that women's knowledge about their personal risk of heart disease is associated with increased action to reduce their risk.

  • Awareness of Heart Disease as the #1 Killer Drives Women to Action
    In 2010, women who reported recently seeing or hearing about The Heart Truth program or the Red Dress symbol were substantially more likely than other women to take at least one action to lower their risk for heart disease.

  • Awareness of Heart Disease as the Number One Killer of Women Continues to Increase, but Women Struggle to Manage Risk Factors
    A 2009 survey, fielded by Diet Coke on behalf of The Heart Truth, showed that the level of awareness among women of heart disease as their number one killer continued to increase. Nearly 7 in 10 women identified heart disease as the leading cause of death among women. This was an increase from 6 in 10 women from the 2008 survey sponsored by Diet Coke.

  • Red Dress Gaining Momentum: Awareness of the National Symbol for Women and Heart Disease on the Rise
    A 2007 national poll sponsored by Johnson & Johnson and affiliated companies, in conjunction with the NHLBI, showed that less than 5 years after the NHLBI launched The Heart Truth program and its Red Dress, 57 percent of U.S. adult women recognized the Red Dress as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness, up from consumer awareness surveys conducted in 2006 and 2005 revealing 39 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

  • Survey Shows Few Women Acknowledge Their Personal Risk for Heart Disease
    A 2006 survey conducted by Lifetime Television, in conjunction with the NHLBI, found that while an increasing number of women are aware that heart disease is their #1 killer, many still do not acknowledge their personal risk and most feel that dialogue is lacking between them and their health care providers on the topic.

  • Survey Shows Women are Disappearing into a Cholesterol Gap
    A survey of 2,700 women sponsored by the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association found that over 80 percent of respondents did not know their cholesterol numbers. Survey findings identified a need for further education about all relevant cholesterol factors that contribute to heart disease.

  • Survey Shows What Diseases Women Fear Most
    In a survey commissioned by the Society for Women's Health Research, data showed that women's fear of heart disease had almost doubled since 2002, but breast cancer remained the single most feared disease.

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Last Updated: August 15, 2014

The Heart Truth, its logo, The Red Dress, and Heart Disease Doesn't Care What You Wear—It's the #1 Killer of Women are registered trademarks of HHS.
Red Dress and Red Dress Collection are service marks of HHS.
National Wear Red Day is a registered trademark of HHS and AHA.