Heart-Healthy Advice for at Home, School, Work, Church

UR Physician Leads National Panel Urging Community-based Goals

February 04, 2003

A new set of recommendations urges Americans of all ages, even children, to make lifestyle changes - quitting smoking, eating right, exercising regularly - that are proven to prevent heart disease before it starts.

The strategy for implementing these changes for the first time at the community level is outlined in a paper published in today’s issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. February is also nationally designated as “Heart Month.” Lead author and chairman of the AHA panel that devised the goals is Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for clinical research at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y., and chairman of the UR’s Department of Community and Preventive Medicine.

The new guidelines provide a roadmap for schools, employers, civic leaders, policy-makers, or anyone else interested in combating heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 killers in the United States.

Here is a sampling of the recommendations: All schools and work sites should provide age-appropriate curricula, materials and services to educate people on causes and early warning signs, and motivate and assist people to improve their lifestyles. § School gym class should be required at least three times per week for K-12, with an emphasis on lifetime sports and activities. § Schools should offer heart-healthy breakfasts and lunches; TV food advertising directed to youths should be limited to foods that meet health guidelines. § All citizens should be assured access to screening, counseling and referral services for cardiovascular disease. § Communities should support farmer’s markets, gardens, convenient bike routes, safe, attractive and affordable fitness facilities, and a smoke-free environment. § Grocery stores and restaurants should increase their offerings of foods that meet nutritional guidelines, and promote or display selections low in saturated fat, sodium and calories.

Pearson recites chilling statistics: One of eight men over 45 carries the diagnosis of coronary disease; the same can be said for one of every 12 women. Obesity and diabetes, two of the major risk factors for heart disease, have reached epidemic proportions. The rates of new heart disease cases since 1990 have not fallen - in fact, for women they have risen. And since 1990 the rate of stroke has not declined, the reverse of a century-long trend.

 “Study after study shows that Americans’ proclivity for high-fat foods, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, and other unhealthy behaviors are to blame for the majority of preventable deaths from heart disease and stroke,” Pearson says. Prevention, therefore, must be a major part of the solution.

Until now, the AHA guidelines have focused on treatment strategies aimed at physicians and their patients who already have heart disease, or who have risk factors. But the new recommendations emphasize the social and environmental origins of heart disease, and attempt to reach people of all cultures and socioeconomic groups, and overcome language barriers and literacy gaps.

“Health-care providers, teachers, community leaders and employers all need to work together to ensure that the places where we live and work and play promote heart health,” Pearson says. “We also need to continue to be politically active. Cardiovascular disease is our biggest health threat. Americans need to know about the problem, understand how to prevent it, and have access to appropriate health care. Everyone should be a preventive cardiologist.”

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Leslie Orr
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