Make heart health a priority this month and this year

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It is February and as always we celebrate American Heart Month to spotlight heart disease awareness and prevention. All health care communities celebrate with events to point out ways in which all of us can reduce our risk of heart disease. T-shirts are sold. Coffee mugs are sold. Even the president makes declaration regarding February being American Heart Month.

All of this is very good and important in helping to educate everyone about the importance of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the president wrote about the “staggering physical and economic loss” related to cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, that president was Lyndon Baines Johnson, as stated in the proclamation in December of 1963 proclaiming February as American Heart Month beginning in 1964 — 54 years ago. Amazingly, it was also that year, Jan. 11, 1964, when then-Surgeon General Luther Terry released a report declaring the health risks associated with smoking. This was truly a turning point in the health of the American population.

In 1960, about 662,000 people in the United States died from heart disease. By 2014 that number had dropped to 633,842. Sounds like only a very small change, but consider this. From 1960 to 2010, the U.S. population increased from 179 million to 308 million, an increase of 72 percent. Yet we have continued to reduce the numbers who die of heart disease consistently on an annual basis.

However, up until the mid-1960s, the death rate from heart disease was on a steady rise. The foresight by President Johnson, the recognition by the surgeon general of smoking risks, and all of the related research in the following years has led to this dramatic reduction in the death rate for heart disease.

It is still important that all of us recognize the risks associated with heart disease. Smoking, fatty foods, deep-fried foods, obesity, too much alcohol and sedentary lifestyle all contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day and I ask each of you to consider the loved ones in your life. Let’s make 2018 a Heart Year so that all of us may be able to spend many more years with our families and friends.

Ronald Stahl, MD, is the chief medical officer at Wilson Medical Center.