LOS ANGELES – The Board of Supervisors has declared February “Heart Health Month” to promote awareness of the risk factors for heart disease and encourage a healthy lifestyle which is demonstrated to reduce the risk of heart disease. Los Angeles County health officials urge all residents to use this year’s Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to get serious about improving their heart health and that of the people they love. This month the Department of Health Services (DHS) is introducing Prevention Matters! to place special emphasis on women’s heart health.
“Heart disease is responsible for one out of three deaths in Los Angeles County,” said Jonathan Fielding, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Public Health and Health Officer.
According to the most recent Los Angeles County Health Survey, approximately 430,000 persons in Los Angeles County have been diagnosed with heart disease.
“Furthermore, heart disease is the leading cause of permanent disability among adults, so our emphasis is not only to save lives from heart disease, but to promote health and productivity throughout the lifespan,” said Dr. Fielding.
Approximately two-thirds (4 million) of residents are at risk for developing heart disease. Health behaviors associated with a high risk of heart disease include being physically inactive, eating a diet high in salt and saturated fat, and smoking tobacco. For example, less than half of county adults achieve recommended physical activity levels. In addition to these health behaviors, factors known to increase the risk for heart disease include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and family history of early heart disease. Due to advances in medical care and improved nutrition and physical activity, death rates due to heart disease have decreased over the past few decades.
“While declines in heart disease mortality are good news, much more can be done,” said Dr. Fielding. “We need to extend the benefits of prevention to all residents.”
Although men are generally at higher risk for developing heart disease than women, more women than men actually die from heart disease each year. To address such disparities, communities need to promote social and environmental conditions that encourage healthy behaviors and assure access to timely and high-quality health services. Special Focus on Women: Prevention Matters! Heart disease is the most costly and most preventable disease in women, and the leading cause of premature death and disability among women in Los Angeles County. Although surveys indicate that most women consider breast cancer their most serious health threat, the risk of heart disease is more than six times greater, with symptoms and risk factors that can differ from men.
To emphasize how important it is for women to understand their heart disease risk and take action, the DHS Office of Women’s Health (OWH) has launched a Prevention Matters! campaign which includes a series of community dialogues on heart health and free screenings for diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure for low-income women. Residents should call the OWH multi-lingual hotline at 1-800-793- 8090.
“The most important message to get out to the public is that heart disease is predictable, preventable and reversible,” said Ellen Eidem, OWH Acting Director. “Reduce your risk by being active, eating smart, quitting smoking, and getting checked regularly. Prevention Matters!”
What You Can Do to Promote Heart Health Fortunately for all groups, many risk factors for heart disease are avoidable and effective medical treatments are available when heart disease is detected early. DHS promotes the following steps to help prevent heart disease: 1. Be Active. As little as ten minutes of moderate activity, three times a day, on most days of the week, can help lower your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and some cancers. Incorporate walking and other enjoyable activities, such as sports or dancing, into your daily life.
2. Eat Smart. Avoid foods high in fat and salt and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products high in dietary fiber. A healthy diet and healthy weight can reduce your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and many cancers.
3. Quit Smoking. Smoking is the leading underlying cause of preventable death in the U.S. and a leading risk factor for heart disease. If you currently smoke, talk to your health care provider about ways to quit. Or call the California Department of Health Services Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-NO-BUTTS for referral to smoking cessation services.
4. Get Checked. Talk to your doctor about possible tests, checkups, medications, and other actions that you can take to improve your health. Getting checked regularly can help prevent disease or find it early.
If you are at an increased risk of heart disease, these preventive actions can be especially important. However, we can each take measures to live more active and healthful lives.
Public Health is committed to protecting and improving the health of the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. Through a variety of programs, community partnerships and services, Public Health oversees environmental health, disease control and community and family health. Public Health comprises more than 3,800 employees.