Photo of AHA CEO Nancy Brown at a panel discussion in WashingtonA massive effort is needed from health, government, business and education leaders to stop premature deaths from heart disease – the leading cause of death in the world – American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said Thursday during a panel discussion in Washington on fighting the global crisis.

“Heart disease can touch anyone, no matter where you live,” she said.  “By working together we can hopefully make this often fatal condition a distant memory for future generations.”

Heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases account for approximately 17.3 million deaths worldwide every year. In the United States, heart disease and stroke claim more than 2,150 Americans each day, an average of one death every 40 seconds.

Brown was joined at the National Press Club event by World Heart Federation CEO Johanna Ralston and physicians from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Cardiology. They discussed ways to work together to further curb heart disease and stroke.

The discussion was part of a yearlong, worldwide effort by the World Heart Federation to advance its new Champion Advocates Programme. Launched 2013, the program focuses on “secondary prevention” treatment for people who have already suffered from heart attack and stroke or are already at risk.

“Heart disease knows no boundaries, which is why the World Heart Federation’s Champion Advocates Programme is traveling around the world to reach different communities and populations and work together to inform change through long-lasting policies and programs,” Ralston said. “With every panel, such as the one that was conducted today in Washington, D.C., we come closer to achieving our goal of reducing premature mortality from cardiovascular disease.”’

Plenty of work is also being done in “primary prevention,” which is helping people avoid these cardiovascular diseases in the first place. Today’s discussion included the question of what’s being done regarding secondary prevention.

Brown noted several steps being taken by American Heart Association volunteers and staff as well as partner organizations. They include: more scientific research and programs to help and educate patients, as well as healthcare providers, and focusing on reducing health disparities, particularly in minimizing the incidence and prevalence of cardiovascular disease among minority populations.

“Research is a fundamental core value of what we do,” said Brown.” In a few weeks, we will announce a targeted set of research studies around health disparities. We’ve committed $15 million to that program.”

“We need to create a culture of health where people are talking about heart disease and taking action,” Brown said, adding that people need to feel inspired about their health and making healthier lifestyle choices. “How do we create a culture where people understand that their actions today could lead to their heart attack tomorrow?”

The Champion Advocates Programme works by engaging physicians to act as “champion advocates.” The program dovetails with the American Heart Assciation’s “2020 Impact Goal,” which aims to reduce cardiovascular diseases and death by 20 percent by 2020 while also improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 2020.

The American Heart Association urges people to improve their health through regular exercise, a healthy diet, no smoking and maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

“Improving health is a challenge,” Brown said about the 2020 goal. “Individual people have to make decisions about themselves. And we at the AHA are focused on making that happen.”

Photo courtesy of Abbey Race