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Released Februrary 4, 2004

By Angela Cutrer

HATTIESBURG - This Friday is National Wear Red Day, a day set aside to "take women's health to heart by wearing red to show support" in raising awareness of the dangers of heart disease among women.

And though celebrated beauty Daryl Hannah is the national spokeswoman for the campaign, we, too, can don the vibrant color as a sign of solidarity with the women facing this dreaded disease.

"The campaign is important to the health of women in south Mississippi because of the many misconceptions nationwide that women have about heart disease," said Shawn Lea, director of communications for the Mississippi Hospital Association. "The perception is that heart disease is a man's disease. The fact is that heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 3 killers, respectively, of women. And in Mississippi, where we have one of the highest incidences of heart disease in the country, it is imperative that women learn about heart disease and take positive actions to reduce their risks."

Only about one-third of women know that heart disease is their biggest health threat, notes the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of an effort to inform women of their risks, the group sponsors a national awareness campaign, "The Heart Truth," in a partnership with the American Heart Association; Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease; and other organizations committed to the health and well-being of women.

"Wear Red Day" is but one of the many parts of the campaign, which has been joined by Baptist Health Systems, the Mississippi State Medical Association, the Mississippi Nurses Association, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi Affiliate of the American Heart Association to help launch the campaign.

More than 50 percent of Mississippi deaths related to cardiac disease occur in women, the group noted. "But frighteningly, a recent national survey shows only 8 percent of women even realize that cardiovascular disease is a significant health risk to females. The campaign is especially aimed at women ages 40 to 60, the time when a woman's risk of heart disease starts to rise. But its messages are also important for younger women, since heart disease develops gradually and can start at a young age - even in the teenage years. Older women have an interest too - it's never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease. Even those who have heart disease can improve their heart health and quality of life."

NHLBI's director, Dr. Claude Lenfant, noted that despite mounting research and advances in treatment, women are not getting the message that one of every three American women is dying of heart disease. "Our goal is to save lives," he said. "We hope to make women aware of the risk factors for heart disease and to motivate them - with the help of their health care professionals - to take an active role in their heart health."

The campaign warns women about heart disease and provides tools to help them take action against its risk factors, the NHLBI says. "Its message is paired with an arresting visual - the Red Dress - that serves as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness. The Red Dress symbol links a woman's focus on her 'outer self' to the need to also focus on her 'inner self' and her heart." See more about the Red Dress at

"The national Wear Red Day campaign is an excellent way to get women to think about their risk for heart disease," said Dr. Joan Exline, interim dean of The University of Southern Mississippi's College of Health. "Many women think of heart disease as something that will only impact them later in life, if at all, and instead focus only on concerns about cancer. But reducing the risk for heart disease is a lifelong process and we need to understand that heart disease is the No. 1 killer for women."

Southern Miss has planned events for the month of February to coincide with the national "The Heart Truth" campaign.

Every Friday in February, the Student Health Center will have free cholesterol screening for students, faculty, and staff, said Dr. Wayne Billion.

"We think of it as being a men's disease, but females, especially after menopause, can have problems with heart disease," said Billion, associate professor of nutrition in the Center for Nutrition and Food Systems at Southern Miss. "It's something they have to be aware of, like elevated cholesterol, and eating good, which is the same for females and males alike."

Billion suggests eating low-saturated fat and low trans fat items, increasing the good kinds of fat, such as that from fish, and increasing fiber and fruits and vegetables in the diet.

A Weight Watchers group's first meeting at the university will be Feb. 11 in Room A of the Commons banquet rooms. They need 20 people to begin the group, which plans to meet for 10 weeks, excluding spring break. Cost is $110. And Southern Miss' Counseling Center is planning events for National Eating Disorders Week Feb 22-29.

Baptist Health Systems contacted more than 30 statewide organizations interested in providing heart health information for their employees and the community. Baptist Health Systems also arranged for four of the "Red Dresses" to be on display in Jackson to help kick off the state campaign.

"By showing off a favorite red dress, shirt or tie, Americans will unite in the national movement to give women a personal and urgent wakeup call about their risk of heart disease," notes the Mississippi Baptist Health Systems Web site at "The Red Dress is the heart of the Red Dress Project, which debuted at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, Feb. 7-14, 2003, during American Heart Month. This groundbreaking project … launched the Red Dress icon to raise awareness of women's risk of heart disease … to build awareness that women are at risk; give a sense of hope that women can reduce their risk and empower them to do so; and provide a clear call to action coupled with a sense of urgency."

Wanda Dubuisson, assistant director for undergraduate programs in the School of Nursing in the College of Health at Southern Miss, said that many times women refuse to believe that their symptoms could be heart related.

"It's the No. 1 killer of women, but many (women) believe it's a man's illness, and don't take their symptoms seriously," she said. "Often, these women have advanced heart disease when they finally seek treatment. We hope to make women aware of the disease, so many women are wearing red to show others (the seriousness) of the matter."

Nancy Loving, founder and executive director of WomenHeart, said that she thinks this heart focus is necessary and that "this campaign is absolutely a gift … given to us and to the American people. … I just want to say thank you so much on behalf of the 8 million women in America who are living with this dreadful disease."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM