Any meaningful discussion about preventing heart disease is going to also include the topic of obesity in the United States. “We are the fattest country in the world,” said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, who specializes in cardiology, internal medicine, and cardiovascular disease at the Mayo Clinic in Florida (www.mayoclinic.org). “People need to be responsible for their own health.”
According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States and a key reason people need elder care services. Of the risk factors for heart disease, 39.5 percent of Americans were inactive, 33.9 percent were obese, and 30.5 percent had high blood pressure. Other behavioral risk factors include cigarette smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
“In general the risk factors include ethnicity, family history, the main thing is not smoking, maintaining a proper body weight, maintaining a normal LDL cholesterol, and getting regular physical exercise,” said Dr. Fletcher. “Only about one quarter of the population addresses these things properly.”
Whites have the highest percentage of deaths caused by heart disease at 27 percent, according to CDC statistics, followed by African Americans at 25.8 percent, Asians or Pacific Islanders at 24.6 percent, and Hispanics at 22.7 percent.
Ocielia Gibson, Miss Black USA 2011, made heart health her personal platform because she was personally touched by the disease after losing her father to heart disease when she was a child.
“Heart disease is serious business,” Gibson said. “I know personally the devastating effects. Being able to be an advocate for heart disease awareness now is the greatest tribute I can pay to my dad.”
The Miss Black USA organization has partnered with The Heart Truth, a campaign with the National Institutes of Health to raise awareness about heart disease and heart attack warning signs in women. The campaign is tied to American Heart Month in February.
Once someone has had a heart attack, or just been diagnosed with heart disease, Dr. Fletcher said that it is very important to maintain a healthy blood pressure and eat a good diet.
“Much of America is unable to afford healthy foods that are more expensive than canned foods with high salt and high fat,” he said. “It can take a while to change a diet, but medications can take effect immediately.”
However, he noted that many people refuse to take their medications or to make sure they are doing so properly. “It can take a little while to train the patient about how important they are,” he said of various medications to help with lowering cholesterol or blood pressure.
Mr. Fletcher said the first thing people need to do is take personal responsibility with their health in order to prevent heart disease or another heart attack. “There can be stress in life, at the workplace, and that can be a risk factor too,” he said. A lot of it is preventable and there needs to be self-responsibility. No can do it except you.”