To commemorate American Hearth Month, Los Angeles County public health officials are advising residents, especially women, to learn about factors that put them at risk for cardiovascular disease and take immediate steps to reduce and control those risks. Cardiovascular disease, commonly referred to as heart disease, includes coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure and several other conditions including arrhythmias, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, and peripheral arterial disease.
To put it into perspective, a woman dies every minute from cardiovascular disease nationally. Heart disease is still the leading cause of death, among women, yet many women do not perceive themselves as being at the same risk as men said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Public Health Director and County Health Officer.
Heart disease and stroke are also the leading causes of premature death and disability in LA County. Data from the LA County Office of Women’s Health indicate that adult women in LA County die from cardiovascular disease at a higher rate than the national rate, with the largest disparities among African American women. Additionally, 52% of African American women, 38% of Latinas and 35% of white women were found to be at risk for heart disease, defined as having two or more of the following factors: cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and high blood cholesterol.
Even though 53% (459,000) of cardiovascular deaths in 2005 nationally were in women compared to 47% (411,000) in men, awareness that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women is much lower than the awareness that it is the leading cause of death among men. Also, a 2006 national study conducted by the American Heart Association evaluated trends in women’s awareness, knowledge, and perceptions related to cardiovascular disease since 1997. Although awareness has increased, knowledge gaps exists among ethnic and racial minorities. Only 31% of African American women and 29% of Latina women compared to 68% of white women reported cardiovascular disease as a leading cause of death.
While progress has been made against some factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease in the general LA County residents, many challenges still remain. Trends in cigarette smoking between 1997 and 2005 indicate a decline in some county residents, especially among Latino, white, and Asian adults, however rates are still climbing among African Americans. In addition obesity increased from 12% to 21% in the same period, and a substantial proportion of adults (37.5%) report a sedentary lifestyle.
A phone survey conducted by the Office of Women’s Health helps women determine their risk for heart disease. Women can call a toll-free hotline, 1-800-793-8090, for their Healthy Heart Risk Assessment. Based on the caller’s risk level, they will receive an information packet in their preferred language that includes educational materials on heart disease prevention and a resource guide for free and low-cost health and fitness programs in LA County. Operators are available in 7 languages Monday – Friday 8:30 am-6:00 pm. Services are provided in the following languages: English, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Vietnamese and Armenian. The goal of this phone-based, multi-language survey is to raise awareness and reach low-income women that might not have access to a traditional health care network.