TUESDAY, Feb. 19 (HealthDay News) -- A new survey suggests that
while public health campaigns have prompted a growing number of
American women to recognize that heart disease is the biggest risk
to their well-being, a racial gap in awareness remains as wide as
Overall, 56 percent of women now say they are aware that heart
disease is their number one killer, up from just 30 percent back in
1997, according to the authors of the American Heart Association
A steep climb in overall awareness was also observed among both
black women and Hispanic women during the 15-year period. But the
respective rise from 15 percent and 20 percent awareness in 1997 to
36 percent and 34 percent awareness in 2012, means that a notable
gap in awareness has remained doggedly persistent.
"The results show we may be winning the war in the past 15 years to raise awareness of heart disease in women, but we are still fighting an important battle to close the minority gap," said study author Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.
Mosca and her colleagues report their observations in the Feb.
19 online edition of
The survey was conducted by telephone and online from August to
October in 2012. More than 2,400 women over the age of 25
Among the findings: While 35 percent of women said they
(erroneously) believed that cancer was their number one killer in
1997, that dropped to 24 percent by 2012. Today, 56 percent of
women accurately cite heart disease as their primary health threat,
up from 30 percent in 1997.
On the downside, information strides made among black and
Hispanic women had only lifted both groups to awareness levels
already seen among white women back in 1997. The result: a racial
spread in heart disease awareness that remains the same as it was
15 years ago.
"Sustained efforts are critical, because African-American women have the highest risk of heart disease and Hispanic women have the highest risk of diabetes, a powerful risk factor that is increasing in epidemic proportions," Mosca said.
The poll authors also observed an age gap, with both overall
awareness and the likelihood of discussing heart disease with a
doctor particularly low among the 25- to 34-year-old set, the
youngest group polled.
On the prevention front, women seemed more motivated to make
lifestyle changes to feel better and improve their health, rather
than to live longer. The team also noted that women continue to
have "low" awareness levels when it comes to knowing the atypical
symptoms of heart trouble that are unique to women, such as
However, Mosca did note that one particularly encouraging and
surprising finding was that patients do seem to trust their
physicians. "This was perceived to be a historical barrier," she
noted, "[but] the new data suggest there is an important
opportunity for health care providers to help raise awareness among
high-risk women, which is the first step in patients taking action
to lower risk."
Dr. Jennifer Mieres, a professor of cardiology at North
Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said that
media-savvy public health campaigns (such as last week's annual
celebrity-driven "Red Dress Event" in New York City) are the key to
"When the AHA's 'Go Red' campaign got started, it was sort of a recognition that most women, when they were asked where they get their information about heart disease from, said they got it from the media. Seventy percent said their information came from magazines, TV, radio shows. Only 24 percent said they got information from their medical providers," Mieres said.
"So, it was a wake-up call," she added. "Because while one in 20 or 30 women die from breast cancer, one in three women die from heart disease. But the breast cancer community had done an amazing, and much better, job of getting the message out about that important disease by using celebrity spokespersons and focusing on the importance of mammograms," Mieres explained.
"So, I think an improved partnership with the media to get science-based information out there is what is responsible for the increase in awareness," she noted.
However, Mieres suggested that the current status quo, while an
improvement, is not good enough.
"I think we have to be much more aggressive in our messages so that women know that 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented by knowing your numbers and making lifestyle changes to control risk factors. And I think we have to become more culturally sensitive, and expand our media campaign to specifically address black women and Latinos through the media outlets and in the language they most often access," she said.
"Clearly," Mieres said, "we still have a long way to go."
For more on women and heart disease risk, visit the
American Heart Association.
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