As a person who suffers from heart disease myself, I am particularly aware of the danger heart disease poses to people’s health. However, I was curious to see if other individuals were aware of the dangers of heart disease as well. With any number of organizations raising awareness about cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and any number of other diseases and disorders, I was interested to see what women in the United States viewed as the greatest threat to their health.
To accomplish this, I commissioned an online survey of nearly 3,500 women, asking them to identify what they believed to be the leading cause of death among women in the United States. This survey was conducted between May 7, 2014 and May 11, 2014. A total of 3,304 responses were received to the following question: “Which of the following do you think is the leading cause of death of women in the USA?” Respondents were then asked to choose one of the following answers:
- Heart disease;
- All cancers, including breast cancer;
- Alzheimer’s disease; or
- Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases.
Survey participants ranged from as young as 18 years old to more than 65 years old. The survey responses had a margin of error of approximately +4/-4 survey points. Google Survey produces “a close approximation to a random sample of the US Internet population and results that are as accurate as probability based panels.”
Survey Results are Troubling
I found the responses to this single question rather concerning.
Sixty-one percent of all survey takers (that is, approximately six out of ten women surveyed) correctly identified heart disease as the greatest threat to women’s health in the United States. This also meant that four out of every ten women did not know about the serious threat heart disease poses to their health. Statistics from the American Heart Association are worse, with only one out of five women viewing heart disease as the greatest danger to women’s health. Every woman is at risk of developing heart disease at some point in her life. Heart disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths in the United States and kills more than 400,000 women per year. In fact, one out of three American women die from heart disease each year. Heart attacks, one of the most serious repercussions of heart disease, kill six times as many women each year as breast cancer.
When I looked at the age of the respondents, I saw another trend. Overall, more than one out of four women surveyed believed cancer was a woman’s biggest health threat. While the majority of women over the age of 35 selected heart disease as the greatest threat to US women’s health, a large number of women ages 18-24 (43.2%) and 25-34 (31.9%) incorrectly thought cancer was the greatest health threat US women faced. What is it that causes women – especially younger women – to view cancer as their greatest health nemesis? The famous “pink ribbon” marketing campaigns may be to blame.
Is There a Reason for the Ignorance?
The nonprofit Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation introduced the pink ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer awareness in 1990 and, since then, a number of companies and corporations have adopted the pink ribbon as part of its marketing strategy. Corporations like General Mills, the National Football League, Yoplait, Asics, and Campbell’s have all adopted a “think pink” marketing strategy during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October, eager to link their products and services to the crusade against breast cancer. However, some people have contended that there are companies that have been deceptive with their motives for “thinking pink.” The grassroots advocacy group Breast Cancer Action has coined the term “pinkwashing” to refer to deceptive corporate breast cancer marketing efforts in which some companies are not transparent about where the sales from their pink-ribbon products go or do not donate any of their profits to breast cancer organizations at all.
Any push to raise awareness about women’s health is good, and the pink ribbon campaign has likely played some part in the sharp decline in breast cancer rates over the past several years. But the size and pervasiveness of the pink ribbon campaign has also likely taken away attention from other deadly threats to women’s health like heart disease. As I stated previously, one in three American women die each year from heart disease; one in thirty-one die from breast cancer. While American Heart Month (every February) was instituted in 1998 and National Wear Red Day started in 2003 to raise awareness of heart disease, far fewer corporations have wanted to associate themselves with these initiatives despite the deadly nature of heart disease.
Heart Disease is Dangerous
I believe raising awareness of heart disease and heart disease prevention is extremely important, especially for women. Heart disease is often misdiagnosed in women because not all women present to the hospital or doctor’s office complaining of the classic “chest pain” symptom. This can not only result in costly but unnecessary treatment but it may also deprive women of life-saving treatment as well. And while there are remedies in a malpractice suit that can compensate women who are misdiagnosed, for a woman whose life is abruptly cut short or ruined to due disability, no amount of money can compensate her or her family.
Women can take steps to protect their heart health. I would encourage every woman to have a talk with her doctor about heart disease and its dangers, and make sure their doctor knows if there is a family history of heart disease. Regular check-ups and physicals with your doctor as well as cholesterol tests, blood sugar monitoring, and high blood pressure evaluations can all help you identify the risk factors of heart disease. Managing your weight, exercising regularly, and cutting out smoking can all reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease and suffering from a heart attack and stroke as well. Women would also be well advised to learn some of the common but lesser-known symptoms of heart problems, such as weakness, feeling hot, shortness of breath, cold sweats, and pain in the left arm or shoulder.
To learn more about heart disease, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
To review our full survey results visit Google here.