URMC Physician Leads Effort to Craft National Guidelines for Heart Health

Mar. 22, 2013
Thomas Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has released a new set of guidelines designed to help policy makers and community leaders develop and implement programs that prevent cardiovascular disease and stroke. The AHA effort was co-chaired by University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) physician Thomas Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

“The future burden of cardiovascular disease, unless we can prevent it, is projected to have an enormous economic impact,” said Pearson, the lead author of a paper appearing the journal Circulation which details the guidelines. “Public health goals should focus on developing interventions that help make healthy decisions easier. These guidelines represent a toolbox for leaders to create integrated prevention programs that improve health on a community-wide level.”

The AHA estimates that in 2010 $498 billion was spent on cardiovascular disease and stroke treatment, medication, and lost productivity. The staggering cost of these diseases and the fact that they rise from lifestyle and behavioral choices has led the health care community to recognize that they cannot be solved solely with medical interventions; they require coordinated community-wide efforts that create healthy environments and encourage healthy behaviors.

The new AHA Community Guide is a comprehensive inventory of goals, strategies, and recommendations for cardiovascular disease and stroke prevention. The document for the first time brings together the most recent research and consensus about the state of the nation’s heart health, proper individual and community-wide health targets, and policies and programs that can serve as models in areas such as physical activity, nutrition, smoking cessation, and blood pressure screening. The result is a catalogue of proven strategies, expertise, and technical assistance that can be pursued to develop and implement interventions for population-wide promotion of healthy behaviors.  

For example, the guide helps communities identify populations at greatest risk, lists outreach and education programs shown to be effective in reaching these individuals, and details methods that can be used to monitor and measure success.

These strategies are intended to help meet the goals established by the AHA to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.

Rochester has long been an innovator and leader in the type of community-based prevention programs envisioned by the new AHA guidelines. A recent example is the HEART (Health Engagement and Action for Rochester’s Transformation) initiative that was launched in 2011. The program – which is a partnership between the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, URMC, and the Monroe County Department of Public Health – trains volunteer outreach workers to conduct blood pressure screenings and educate high-risk groups about the importance of self-management of high blood pressure in venues such as health fairs at local churches, barbershops, hair salons, the Jewish Community Center, and Buffalo Bills training camp.   

“If we are going to meet our goal of preventing heart disease and stroke from being the leading cause of death, simply relying on medical interventions will not get us there,” said Pearson. “This will require a comprehensive, community-based approach.”

Pearson – a professor in the URMC Department of Public Health Sciences, senior associate dean of Clinical Research, and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute – is an internationally recognized authority in how to prevent heart disease by getting proper nutrition and exercise, quitting smoking, and using medications effectively. In addition to his role with the AHA guidelines, he is also a founding member of the World Heart Forum for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and was among 13 scientific experts chosen to serve on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which recommended changes to the current Dietary Guidelines, viewed as the cornerstone of American food policy.