An official website of the United States government

Heart Disease Is World Killer; Obama Urges Heart Health
February 3, 2012

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer

Two women looking at red dresses
Former first ladies Nancy Reagan, left, and Laura Bush at a 2005 display of red dresses for the heart health awareness campaign that year. First ladies donated all the gowns.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the greatest single global killer, the cause of 30 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Members of the U.N. General Assembly in 2011 resolved to emphasize public awareness of this health risk in their home countries and advocate healthier lifestyles that can prevent CVDs.

The United States urges citizens to take responsibility for heart health with the annual recognition of American Heart Month every February, as declared by presidential proclamation.

President Obama’s proclamation January 31 called heart disease a “staggering health problem” with one in three American adults affected by some form of cardiovascular disease.

“This month, let us rededicate ourselves to reducing the burden of heart disease by raising awareness,” the proclamation said, “taking steps to improve our own heart health, and encouraging our colleagues, friends, and family to do the same.”

CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. Heart disease and stroke are the most widely occurring, but arterial disease in the arms and legs and pulmonary embolism are also included in the group.

Both the WHO and U.S. health agencies have emphasized that these diseases are caused largely — 80 percent, according to WHO — by lifestyle behaviors that individuals have the power to improve: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use.

On the global scale, the WHO is emphasizing the severity of CVDs in the developing world. “People in low- and middle-income countries who suffer from CVDs and other noncommunicable diseases have less access to effective and equitable health care services which respond to their needs (including early detection services),” a WHO fact sheet says.

The dangers of heart disease and other CVDs in the developing world ranked high on the list of concerns when the U.N. General Assembly held a special session on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in September 2011. The session convened around the belief that NCDs not only adversely affect individuals and families, but that they contribute to a downward spiral of poor health, inability to thrive and sustained poverty.

The special session ended with U.N. member states committing to reduce risk factors, create health-promoting environments, strengthen national policies and health systems, bolster international cooperation and partnerships and promote research and development. The delegates pledged to work with the WHO and other international organizations toward those goals. As the assembly adopted this political declaration, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “We can do more than heal individuals — we can safeguard our very future.”


In 2012, the U.S. National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute will enter a new decade of its February campaigns, The Heart Truth, which alert women to their risk of CVDs. Heart attack long was thought to be a greater health concern for men in the United States, and only in recent years have women realized that they too are at high risk.

The Heart Truth and its centerpiece symbol of the red dress have been important in raising awareness and media coverage over the last decade. Joining the U.S. government in the cause, the fashion industry — including designers, models, and celebrities — is a partner in National Wear Red Day, marked on February 3 this year, when tens of thousands of participants suit up in red apparel as a symbol of their concern about cardiovascular disease.