By SARA ARTHURS
Heart disease and stroke are among the nation’s, and Hancock County’s, leading causes of death, disability and health care costs — many of them preventable. The Findlay Health Department is joining a national campaign, Million Hearts, which aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
During February, which is American Heart Month, the health department is trying to educate the community and has started a new walking group at the Findlay Village Mall. The hope is that these changes go beyond February and last a lifetime.
Million Hearts was developed in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working alongside other federal agencies and private-sector organizations. Local partners include Findlay City Schools and the Findlay Family YMCA.
The national Million Hearts campaign reports that heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading causes of death in the United States, making cardiovascular disease responsible for one of every three deaths in the country. Americans suffer more than 2 million heart attacks and strokes each year and every day 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease. In addition, heart disease and stroke are among the leading causes of disability in the country, with more than 3 million people reporting serious illness and decreased quality of life. Heart disease and stroke are also the most widespread and costly health problems facing the nation, accounting for more than $444 billion in health care expenditures and lost productivity in 2010 alone.
Both men and women are at risk of heart disease, one of the largest killers of women. But women are sometimes “less aware” and don’t realize they’re at risk, Findlay’s deputy health commissioner Barb Wilhelm said.
In 2013, 30 percent of deaths in Hancock County were from heart attack and stroke, up from 27 percent in 2012, said Noah Stuby, health educator at the Findlay Health Department.
Risk factors include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, physical inactivity and diabetes.
The Findlay campaign is focusing on the “ABCS” of heart disease prevention where “A” stands for aspirin, “B” for blood pressure, “C” for cholesterol and “S” for smoking cessation.
Aspirin, where appropriate, can lower the risk of heart disease by acting as a blood thinner. Stuby said not everyone should take it, though. He recommends a consultation with a physician.
The health department is campaigning to encourage residents to “know your numbers.” That is, knowing their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers helps a person determine how much they’re at risk of heart disease.
“Know your numbers and start from there,” Stuby said.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a leading factor in heart disease. It’s tied to sodium intake. It’s considered a silent killer, Stuby said. This is because a lot of people don’t even know what their blood pressure reading is, so they might have high blood pressure and not know it, Wilhelm said. Cholesterol is plaque that forms in the arteries and not having cholesterol under control can lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
The community health assessment found that 25 percent of Hancock County adults had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and 36 percent with high cholesterol. Six percent had been diagnosed with diabetes and of those, some also had additional risk factors. Fifteen percent of diabetics had high blood pressure, 11 percent had high cholesterol and 85 percent were obese or overweight, Stuby said.
A total of 35 percent of Hancock County adults were overweight and 27 percent were obese.
Stuby said it starts young, noting that childhood obesity is prevalent and 70 percent of obese adolescents grow up to be overweight or obese adults.
For adults, it’s sometimes a challenge to find the time to exercise in a busy life, Stuby said. The health department is encouraging small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking around one’s office.
Eighteen percent of Hancock County adults do not get any physical activity, Stuby said. And of children ages 6 to 11 in Hancock County, 10 percent do not get at least 30 minutes of activity a day. He noted that that figure is higher than the state or national average.
Fifteen percent of Hancock County adults are currently smokers, down from 28 percent in 2003, an indication the community has made progress, Stuby said.
Wilhelm said the health department is working to reduce that number further. One project in place is periodic compliance checks of area stores to make sure they are not selling cigarettes to underage youths.
Once a smoker stops smoking, his or her risk for heart attack and stroke declines each year. Resources exist to help smokers quit. Million Hearts suggests calling 800-QUIT-NOW.
Stuby said making change to diet and exercise “always starts with a baby step.” Some of his and Wilhelm’s recommendations include: reducing intake of sodium, trans fats, saturated fat, sugar, and processed foods; adding fresh fruits and vegetables; choosing fish or chicken over beef and pork; drinking water or 100 percent juice instead of pop or another sugary drink.
Wilhelm said Americans’ sense of portions is “distorted” and it’s important to think in terms of portion control and eating smaller portions.
But, again, Stuby said, don’t feel you need to change everything in your diet in one day. Make small changes at first, reaching for an apple rather than chips for a snack.
“Set small, achievable goals,” Wilhelm said.
She said policy changes also create healthier communities, citing the smoke-free workplace act as one example. Examples might be changes in policies regarding school lunches or physical activity requirements.
And, Stuby said, some grocery stores are making efforts to reduce sodium in the foods sold there, and there are also efforts going on to remove trans fats.
The health department’s walking program is from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday in February. On Feb. 25, Stuby and health department nurses will be there with information on heart health and heart disease prevention. They will also take blood pressure readings that day. The meeting spot is at the guest services center near Dunham’s and TJ Maxx. The health department also had signs made, which will be posted year-round at various exits around the mall indicating the distance walked. One lap is .69 miles, two laps 1.38 miles and three laps 2.07 miles.
The health department also commissioned two billboards to promote the Million Hearts campaign and heart disease prevention.
In addition, information will be available in the lobby of the health department with resources for community members wanting to take steps to prevent heart disease. Stuby said anyone with questions can call or stop in to their office at 1644 Tiffin Ave.
“We’re here as a resource for the community,” he said.
Online: http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/index.html Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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