Passion Meets Fashion

It’s definitely not your mother’s public health campaign.

When the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)  launched the Heart Truth campaign seven years ago to raise awareness of women’s heart health their partners were your typical patient groups and professional medical societies.

Not anymore.  Today, their front row partner is Coca-Cola.  Diet Coke that is.

I was among a small group of women’s health advocates who met recently to hear the latest on NHLBI’s campaign with Diet Coke and how the fashion industry is bringing an important public health message to women. Diet Coke’s commitment to the Heart Truth campaign is unprecedented, one of the “largest public awareness initiatives we have ever undertaken,” said Celeste Bottoroff, VP Living Well, Coca-Cola North America.

Leading Diet Coke’s campaign?  Endless-legs Heidi Klum and other fashion-conscious women who have revamped the little red dress campaign into a national symbol with guts, curves and most importantly results.

“In 2002, only 34% of the women in this country knew heart disease was the leading cause of death among American women,” Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, NHLBI director, told the group. “But we’re making progress.  Today, as a result of the Heart Truth campaign and others like it, 65% of the women now know it’s the number one killer.”

Nabel led a discussion of the common myths associated with women’s heart heath and recalled her own experiences as a cardiology resident when women were caregivers who supported husbands, fathers and other male family members through heart ailments but often ignored or brushed aside their own symptoms for fear that treatment would interfere with domestic chores such as childrearing, cooking, and cleaning.  “Even when older women came in with heart problems, they weren’t treated as aggressively as men,” Nabel admitted.

“Most women still need educating,” she remarked.  “80% of middle-aged women still have at least one risk factor for heart disease.  And just one, doubles your risk of actually having heart disease.”

Joining Nabel were Phyllis Greenberger, President and CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research, Susan Bennett, MD, Clinical Director of the George Washington University Hospital’s Women’s Heart Program and Robyn Flipse, MS, RD, author and nutrition consultant to discuss the campaign’s most important messages.  First, heart disease is not a man’s disease, a point often raised by group’s such as those headed by Greenberger who cited research  indicating that only 17% of cardiologists and 8% of primary care physicians know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.

And it’s not just for the aged either.  “When a 40 year old woman has heart disease it’s worse than a 40 year old man,” said Bennett recalling patients in their 20s and 30s in her practice.   “It’s never too late to change your lifestyle,” Flipse added.  “The body is very forgiving.  Even a 10% drop in weight can have a positive impact on blood pressure, cholesterol and other important risk factors.”

The Heart Truth campaign, thanks the vision of Dr. Nabel and the willingness of NHLBI to partner with a highly visible, social icon such as Diet Coke is just what’s needed to cut through the feel good messaging that most public health campaigns resort to.  Having lived with heart disease my entire adult life (now well into middle age), it’s a welcome boost of energy and the visibility possible with this campaign is unparalleled.    Along with it comes some very important information that can save women’s lives.

Look for the red dress emblem on 6 Billion Diet Coke cans, at community public forms, on Oscar night, and fashion shows across the country.   Diet Coke, with Heidi’s help, has even designed a new red dress label pin which strongly resembles an hour-glass.  And what woman doesn’t want that?

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