Women More Aware of Heart Disease Danger but Room
American Heart Association finds women’s awareness of
heart disease as leading cause of death nearly doubled in 15 years;
culturally and generationally relevant messages on lifestyle and
prevention strategies are needed
Feb 22, 2013 - The number of women aware that heart
disease is the leading cause of death has nearly doubled in the last 15
years, but that knowledge still lags in minorities and younger women,
according to a new study in the American Heart Association journal
Circulation. And, as might be expected, senior women age 65 and
older are more likely to discuss heart disease with their doctor than
are younger women.
Researchers comparing women’s views about heart
disease in 1997 and today, found:
▪ In 2012, 56 percent of women identified heart
disease as the leading cause of death compared with 30 percent in 1997.
▪ In 1997, women were more likely to cite cancer
than heart disease as the leading killer (35 percent versus 30 percent);
but in 2012, only 24 percent cited cancer.
▪ In 2012, 36 percent of black women and 34
percent of Hispanic women identified heart disease as the top killer —
awareness levels that white women had in 1997 (33 percent).
▪ Women 25-34 years old had the lowest awareness
rate of any age group at 44 percent.
The study showed barriers and motivators to engage
in a heart healthy lifestyle are different for younger women, who also
said their doctors were less likely to talk to them about heart disease.
“This is a missed opportunity,” said Lori Mosca,
M.D, M.P.H., Ph.D., lead author of the study. “Habits established in
younger women can have lifelong rewards. We need to speak to the new
generation, and help them understand that living heart healthy is going
to help them feel better, not just help them live longer. So often the
message is focused on how many women are dying from heart disease, but
we need to be talking about how women are going to live — and live
In August-October 2012, researchers conducted
online and telephone surveys with more than 1,200 women, 25 and older.
They compared results from surveys taken in 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006 and
2009. The survey assessed women’s lifestyle, awareness of the leading
cause of death and warning signs of a heart attack, and what they would
do if they experienced heart attack symptoms.
Among the women surveyed:
▪ 61 percent said the reason they would take
preventive action was to feel better, compared to 45 percent who would
be motivated to take preventive action in order to live longer.
▪ Racial and ethnic minorities reported higher
levels of trust in their healthcare providers compared with whites, and
were also more likely to act on the information provided dispelling the
myth that mistrust of providers contributes to disparities.
▪ Self-reported depression was common (26
percent) among respondents and has been previously reported as a barrier
to adherence to medical guidelines.
▪ Compared with older women, younger women were
more likely to report not discussing heart disease risk with their
doctors (6 percent among those 25-34 versus 33 percent for those 65 and
Mosca said efforts need to be age-appropriate and
culturally sensitive to reach younger women and more minorities who are
at high risk for heart disease.
“There are gaps between women’s personal awareness
and what they’re doing in terms of preventive steps,” said Mosca,
director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and
professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “The
American Heart Association has well-established, evidence-based
guidelines about heart disease prevention, so we have to better align
women’s actions with what is evidence-based.”
Co-authors are Michelle A. Albert, M.D., M.P.H.;
Gmerice Hammond, M.D,; Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D.; Jean McSweeney, Ph.D.,
R.N.; Heidi Mochari-Greenberger, Ph;D.; M.P.H., R.D.; Jane Reckelhoff,
Ph.D.; Mathew J. Reeves, Ph.D.; Amy Towfighi, M.D.; and Judy L. Bezanson,
D.S.N., R.N. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.
The National Institutes of Health funded the study.
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