As we near the end of this month, many thoughts come to mind. Of course there are those obvious concerns, such as ‘what costume should I wear to the Halloween party?!’ But then there are more pressing matters, which include one of the most talked about issues of October: breast cancer. Yes, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many media campaigns have joined in the fight to rid the country of this burdening disease. During this month, countless advertisements on social media, such as the infamous “No Bra Day”, as well as the push for sports paraphernalia supporting research on breast cancer have contributed to raising awareness and money (or gaining more followers, for those opportunists on Instagram who use this moment to show off their hooters…sips tea).
This issue, of course, is no laughing matter. According to the National Cancer Institute (2015), breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women in the U.S. after skin cancer. However, this disease pales in comparison to another major killer of women. That deadly assassin is heart disease. Responsible for 22.4 percent of deaths in women of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, heart disease tops all cancer deaths within this population by 0.9 percent (deaths due to cancer as a whole is 21.5 percent). Oddly enough, De Vito et al. (2015) state coronary heart disease (CHD) (used synonymously with heart disease) is actually the leading cause of death in the U.S.! As with breast cancer, there are many modifiable risk factors that contribute to CHD incidence. Eating healthy, staying away from drugs, and engaging in various forms of physical activity are some major lifestyle changes that can help lower the chance of women, or anyone for that matter, getting CHD.
But enough with this mundane lecture about how to stay healthy…let’s get down to more pressing facts! First, despite widely available statistics regarding CHD and its impact, many women believe breast cancer is a bigger threat to their lives. Martha Gulati, M.D., in an interview with Newsmax Health, once asserted that one in four women will die from heart disease compared to one in 30 women suffering from breast cancer. Some blame physicians for this misunderstanding, especially since many of them view CHD as a condition that primarily affects men. However, let’s not just hold these professionals accountable here. What about the media?
Media often captures the attention of many. It would make sense to raise awareness about heart disease as much as or even more so than breast cancer. It should be noted that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have marked February as Heart Month. However, February is also a month celebrating Black History and, of course, Valentine’s Day. Therefore, it makes sense that any efforts to educate the public about CHD may be largely overshadowed. Moreover, many could mistake the CDC’s promotion of “Heart Month” as another nod to Valentine’s Day. Maybe we should move the heart disease movement to another month…
In terms of media coverage of CHD, a great starting place would be the entertainment industry, or more specifically sports organizations. Take the NFL and NBA for example. These two entities have been known for showing their support for those fighting against breast cancer through wearing pink (the official color of breast cancer awareness). Though there has been some controversy surrounding the distribution of donations made in support of the cause, you have to admit sports are a great way to go regarding disease awareness. However, there is an issue here. If the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. were to promote awareness for heart disease, it would greatly contradict the aim of their sponsors. Who hasn’t seen McDonald’s, Sprite, or Budweiser plastered all over a sports arena, or aired in commercials during a game?
Adding to this, raising awareness about CHD is rather dull in comparison to diseases such as breast cancer. Heck, raising awareness about skin cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, can’t even top the breast cancer campaign! The reasons why could be partly due to the sex appeal behind the pink ribbon. Breast cancer can be made attractive, erotic, or seductive. Most of you probably even clicked on this blog post because of the photo we chose as a feature! Just face it; sex sells…heart disease doesn’t.
There are those of you reading this, however, who may want to act on the heart disease issue ASAP. For this, we turn back to De Vito et al. (2015). In their soon to be published manuscript Validation of a Risk Prediction Tool for Coronary Heart Disease in Middle-aged Women (yes, we, Tit 4 Tat, get access to these things…), De Vito et al. (2015) study the effectiveness of a publicly-available, web-based tool called Your Disease Risk (YDR). YDR “was designed to estimate risk of CHD and other chronic diseases” (De Vito et al., 2015, p. 4). Basically, this program can estimate an individual’s relative risk of developing CHD within the next 10 years based on self-reported information regarding lifestyle and clinical risk factors. Results for each individual are compared to another person having the same age and sex in the general population. What makes YDR so interesting is that unlike most other validated CHD risk prediction tools, it “includes modifiable risk factors and only requires information that can be easily self-reported by patients” (De Vito et al., 2015, p. 14).
Nevertheless, while YDR seems to be a great starting point for assessing CHD risk, De Vito et al. (2015) report some interesting findings. In their study, De Vito et al. (2015) looked at the results of 55,802 registered female nurses, 97.9 percent white, who were aged 47 to 74 in 1994. Their results indicated that “the YDR tool appears to have moderate validity for estimating 10-year relative risk of CHD in this population of middle-aged women” (De Vito et al., 2015, p. 17). Obviously, one cannot generalize these results to the entire U.S. population. Still, however, we showcase these findings only to point out potential flaws in even the most reputable of tools. Therefore the moral of the story is YDR is a good start for fighting CHD, but modifying certain risk factors is of the utmost importance.
In closing, we’d like to point out that this blog post is by no means advocating the reduction of breast cancer awareness initiatives. Instead, we are challenging the media to find better ways of advocating for the reduction of heart disease. Seeing that it is the leading cause of death among both women and men, campaigns emphasizing proper screening procedures for CHD is necessary. Moreover, in regards to possible attacks from certain food sponsors (we won’t name any names) on any disease reduction efforts, how about let’s focus less on the money making and more on the life saving?
**Let us know what you think about heart disease in America. Do you think we adequately discussed the role of media in CHD coverage? What about breast cancer?? Please share your thoughts with us!
De Vito, K., Baer, H., Dart, H., Chiuve, S., Rimm, E., Colditz, G. (2015). Validation of a risk prediction tool for coronary heart disease in middle-aged women. Unpublished manuscript, Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.