National efforts to combat heart disease pass a significant threshold in 2014, as American Heart Month marks its 50th anniversary in February, with events planned across the United States to raise awareness about risk and prevention.
“Maintaining a strong heart is key to a long and healthy life,” President Barack Obama wrote in proclaiming this year’s observation. “By adopting a few healthy habits – getting regular exercise; not smoking; eating diets rich in fruits and vegetables and low in salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol – each of us can reduce our risk.”
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the death rate for coronary heart disease has fallen since peaking in the late 1960s. Meanwhile, the U.S. death rate for stroke has plummeted by 75% during the past half-century.
Those gains have added almost five years to the average life expectancy of Americans, the NIH reported.
Still, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women and men in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined, according to the American Heart Association. Each year, about 715,000 Americans suffer a heart attack and 600,000 or so die of heart disease, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.
The financial consequences also are tremendous. For example, cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke and heart disease, costs the United States about $312 billion each year, including for healthcare services, medications and loss of productivity, the CDC notes.
Health management professionals and policy experts focus on the vital role of prevention in making more Americans heart healthy. The CDC recommends a series of steps, including following a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in physical activity, monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol, and refraining from smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control is a leading participant in the national Million Hearts initiative, which was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The public-private project – whose other partners include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the YMCA and the American Heart Association – seeks to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
Among other activities, Million Hearts participants are promoting the benefits of health informatics, such as Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other medical data and technology, in treating patients with elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.
In an August 2013 report, CDC Director Tom Frieden highlighted the use of EHRs in tracking “patient care over time using prompts and reminders to improve care.”
Healthcare providers and communities across the United States are hosting awareness and prevention events to help celebrate American Heart Month’s golden anniversary, including the 11th annual National Wear Red Day on Feb. 7.
At the local level, Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso, Indiana, scheduled a series of free heart-health awareness presentations during February.