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Combating region’s high rate of heart disease

Many Southwest Georgia residents on the fast track to heart disease—the leading cause of death in the 14-county Southwest Health District, the state and the country—don’t know their risk factors or how to modify them.

“Georgia has one of the highest death rates of cardiovascular disease in the United States, roughly 9 percent higher than the national rate,” said Southwest Public Health District Director Jacqueline Grant. “However, it is in our power to do something about that.

February—American Heart Month—is a good time to emphasize that message.”

Grant said the first step is to learn the seven modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease: smoking, lack of physical activity, poor eating habits, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Yet nearly 2.3 million Georgians don’t know the risk factors, said Southwest Health District Health Coordinator David Cooper, citing the most recent Georgia Data Summary of Cardiovascular Disease.

“Also, many people don’t realize the economic toll cardiovascular disease takes,” he said. “The most recent statistics we have are from 2007, when it resulted in 144,000 hospitalizations in Georgia. The average hospital stay was five days. The estimated cost of cardiovascular disease in Georgia is $11.2 billion in direct health care costs and in lost productivity.”

Cardiovascular disease includes stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart attacks and diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

“Approximately every 25 seconds, an American will suffer a coronary event, and approximately every minute, an American will die from one,” said Cooper. “The tragedy is compounded because we can do something to change that.”

Everyone, regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic background, can adopt healthy behaviors, said Grant.

“Making changes in your behavior can reduce your risk profoundly and allow you to live a healthier life,” Grant said. “Programs such as our Hooked on Health workplace initiative can help lower your risk of heart disease.”

The Hooked on Health interactive program focuses on five categories of wellness behavior: being active, being positive, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco products and getting check-ups.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you have, because programs like Hooked on Health are available at no cost,” Grant said. “You don’t have to make big lifestyle changes all at once to see results. Even small changes in your behavior can improve your life and reduce your risk.”