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With Love from the County Health Department...

February 14, 2006

February—the month of valentines and candy hearts—is also American Heart Month: a time for the nation to focus attention on diseases of the heart and circulatory system.

“Cardiovascular disease, which includes stroke and heart disease, is the leading cause of death among women and men in Westchester,” said Joshua Lipsman, M.D., M.P.H., Commissioner of Health for Westchester County. “There is much that can be done to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and the Health Department is working hard to let residents know how to protect themselves.”

The magnitude of the problem is vast. Throughout New York State, cardiovascular disease claims more than 70,000 lives each year. Nationally, 40 percent of deaths result from heart disease and stroke - the first and third leading killers. Although most cardiovascular disease deaths occur later in life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of sudden deaths from heart disease among 15- to 34-year-olds is on the rise.

Additionally, an estimated 70 million Americans, or one person in four, lives with a cardiovascular disease, making it the leading cause of permanent disability in the United States. Last year, the economic cost, in terms of health care expenses and lost productivity, was estimated to be $394 billion.

Factors leading to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke include the following:

  • Smoking – this doubles a person’s chance of cardiovascular disease. For women, it is the single greatest contributor to increased risk.
  • Diabetes seriously increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. More than 80 percent of diabetic patients die from cardiovascular disease.
  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels also greatly increase the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Obesity – excess weight puts more strain on the heart, is linked to higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and increases the likelihood of type 2 diabetes.

To address this issue, County Executive Andy Spano and the Westchester County Health Department have launched many initiatives over the years to encourage heart-healthy lifestyle choices among residents. The County’s Fit Kids program has been especially successful in promoting heart-healthy lifestyle habits among school children and the Eat Well Play Hard program has brought these messages to preschool and daycare programs.

The Take Care of Yourself campaign, unveiled by Mr. Spano in 2003, has worked to raise awareness of the risk of cardiovascular disease among women. In 2004, Mr. Spano launched the Be Fit Westchester program to encourage all Westchester County residents to make healthy lifestyle choices and to increase utilization of County parks. As part of the Be Fit initiative, a walking club was established at The Westchester Mall the club’s one year anniversary event will be held on February 14th.

The Westchester County Health Department offers the following suggestions to help residents to protect their hearts:

  • Know your numbers: keep track of blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as blood glucose and body mass measurements.
  • Eat well: limit the amount of carbohydrates, sodium, saturated and trans fat in your diet. Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Increase physical activity: regular moderate to vigorous physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Even modest daily exercise, such as walking, is beneficial over the long term.
  • If you smoke, stop.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

For more information, please visit the Westchester County Department of Health website at or call the Health Department at (914) 813-5000.


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