By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending the annual Woman’s Day Red Dress awards ceremony in New York City. The event is one of the highlights of American Heart Month, and it was created by that magazine to educate Americans about, and help fight, heart disease, which has become the number one killer of women. Many are surprised to learn that while breast cancer is the cause of death of one in every 31 American women, one of every three women dies of heart disease. So I found it particularly meaningful, both as a doctor and a woman, to be honored for FDA’s work to improve women’s cardiovascular health.
One of our efforts toward this end that was cited by the magazine was the proposal to update the Nutrition Facts Label. The proposed updates would more prominently highlight calorie and serving size information, inform consumers about “added sugars,” update the daily values for nutrients, and ensure that the serving size requirements reflect the amounts of food people actually consume. They would encourage consumers to use the label to take note of foods high in sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat, which can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
We also published final rules on restaurant menu and vending machine labeling. Calorie information is the key component of these requirements, and obesity is associated with a range of heart disease related problems. The new rules also require that other nutrition information, such as sodium, is provided upon the consumer’s request. High sodium intake can increase blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. As with the nutrition facts label, these menu labeling requirements will give consumers nutrition information they need to be able to make healthy food choices for themselves and their families.
Another part of FDA that matters for cardiovascular health is our Center for Tobacco Products. Though its work is designed to protect the health of all Americans, it has special significance for women who, sadly, are catching up to men in the prevalence of tobacco-related diseases.
In the last 50 years, a woman’s risk of dying from smoking has more than tripled, and is now equal to that for men – not what we desire when we talk about equality. The more than 20 million women in the U.S. who smoke cigarettes are at risk not just for heart attacks, lung cancer, and strokes, but also emphysema and other serious chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Our actions on smoking and nutrition have been complemented by the work of the Office of Women’s Health. Its outreach initiatives have helped provide women with tips and resources they can use to make better heart health decisions for themselves and their families. This Office has also supported research on treatment of heart disease in women.
FDA’s responsibilities also include reviewing, approving, and helping advance new and innovative medical products to diagnose, treat and prevent heart disease, including life-saving medical devices such as artificial hearts, stents, and heart valves, essential tests like echocardiograms, and important drugs for hypertension, lowering cholesterol and treating other aspects of cardiovascular disease.
Over the years, FDA’s support of women’s health has grown thanks to scientific advances, changes in society, and improvements in the agency itself. We will continue to promote these goals, not just in the area of cardiovascular health, but in women’s health more generally.
Of course, we can’t do it alone. And that’s why I sincerely welcome such events as the National Wear Red Day and Woman’s Day’s Red Dress awards. They help focus our nation’s attention and energy on the fight against women’s heart disease to which we, at FDA, are fully committed.
Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is the Commissioner of Food and Drugs