The Meaning of Wearing Red

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.

Commissioner Hamburg at Event

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., at the Woman’s Day Red Dress awards ceremony in New York City

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

A Valentine for Your Heart

By: Margaret Hamburg, M.D.

Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate matters of the heart, is the perfect reminder that February is American Heart Month.  There’s no better gift for those you love, or for yourself, than to help ensure a healthy heart.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  One in every three deaths in our country is from heart disease and stroke.  That’s equal to 2,200 deaths each day, every day, or more than 800,000 per year.  But more than abstract statistics, every victim is a parent or child, spouse or sibling, grandparent or friend.  There’s not a single family, not a single individual, who hasn’t been touched by this devastating epidemic.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.Cardiovascular disease is also very expensive.  Together, heart disease and stroke hospitalizations in 2010 cost the nation more than $444 billion in health care expenses and lost productivity, and they are among the leading causes of disability.  One out of every six health care dollars is spent on cardiovascular disease treatment, and cardiovascular disease accounts for the greatest disparity in life expectancy across our racially and ethnically diverse population.

Too often, when we think of heart disease, we think that it only affects men.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Nearly 43 million women, one-third of all women in America, are living with or are at risk for heart disease.  More women die from heart disease than from anything else, more than from all forms of cancer combined, and it’s largely preventable.

The FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH) maintains a web page which provides links and resources related to heart health.  The website features the OWH heart disease in women fact sheet and publications on hypertension, cholesterol, smoking cessations, and other ways to promote a healthy heart.

As a physician, I know that hereditary issues play a role in heart disease.  But, the majority of risk factors are controllable or treatable, regardless of your age or physical ability.  Make healthy eating choices.  Don’t smoke.  Reduce sodium and transfats in your diet.  Regularly check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Maintain a healthy weight.  Manage stress.  And, get active.  All of these things will help you enjoy a healthy heart and lifestyle.  Use this American Heart Month to educate yourself about heart disease, its risk factors, and ways to beat it.

One way the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is helping Americans achieve healthier hearts and lives is through the “Million Hearts” initiative.  It’s a new public-private partnership launched in September of 2011 that’s trying to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.  The “Million Hearts” initiative will focus, coordinate, and enhance cardiovascular disease prevention activities across the public and private sectors through a wide range of activities targeted at improving clinical care and empowering Americans to make healthy choices.

Within HHS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are helping us lead the “Million Hearts” initiative, working alongside many other federal agencies.  Key private-sector partners include the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association, the YMCA, other non-profit agencies, communities and health systems.

Preventing one million heart attacks by 2017 is an ambitious goal that will require work and a steady commitment to change from each one of us.  Visit Million Hearts to learn more about the steps you can take to help reach this national goal, and to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.  Additionally, take the pledge to be one in a Million Hearts!

Margaret Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration.