As a woman, healthcare educator and chair of the American Heart Association’s New Jersey Take Wellness To Heart Coalition, I want to applaud Senators John Matheussen and Martha Bark for their leadership around the issues of women and cardiovascular disease. Senator Matheussen in particular was the lead sponsor of legislation recently passed in the Senate that will appropriate $750,000 to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to implement a public awareness campaign to inform women of the dangers of heart disease and stroke. A companion bill, sponsored by Assemblyman George Geist and Assemblywoman Rose Marie Heck, is under consideration in the Assembly.
One of the enduring myths about cardiovascular disease is that “heart disease is a man’s disease.” The harsh fact is that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women claiming the lives of nearly 503,000 females every year — more female lives than the next 14 causes of death combined. Sadly, more than 15,500 New Jersey females die each year from heart disease and stroke.
In an effort to improve women’s awareness about their risk of heart disease and stroke, and to increase physician and public awareness, in 1998 the American Heart Association launched Take Wellness To Heart, a multi-year national women, heart disease and stroke campaign. Featuring a national battle cry of Take Charge! Take Wellness To Heart urges women to empower themselves to become more knowledgeable about heart disease, stroke and their personal risk factors. Women can Take Charge! and can call toll-free 1-888-MY-HEART to receive a free woman’s cardiovascular health information packet.
Recent surveys show that most women are far more afraid of breast cancer than of cardiovascular disease. Breast cancer if unquestionably a serious disease and deserves much attention and support, but it should not overshadow the very real risk of heart disease and stroke. While 1 in 28 women’s deaths is from breast cancer, almost 1 in 2 deaths is from cardiovascular diseases — deadly, but often preventable diseases. Since 1984 more females than males have died each year from cardiovascular diseases and the gap between male and female deaths continues to widen.
While more than 10,000 New Jersey women since February 1998 have called the American Heart Association at 1-888-MY-HEART for free information, we have barely scratched the surface around this issue, the “silent epidemic” of cardiovascular disease. If women don’t take steps to reduce their risk, the tragic and needless suffering these diseases cause will only grow worse. Thanks to the efforts of Senator Matheussen and others, New Jersey women may soon have more of a fighting chance to beat heart disease and stroke.
Nancy Redeker, Ph.D, RN, CS
Chair, American Heart Association
New Jersey Take Wellness To Heart Coalition