The American Heart Association (AHA) was founded in 1924. Why? Because heart disease was the number one killer of Americans back then and something needed to be done about it. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a heart attack survivor himself, issued a Presidential Proclamation making February American Heart Month. Since then the AHA, CDC, NIH, and ACC (American College of Cardiology) have all been dutifully encouraging us to promote heart health this time of year.
And what’s changed? Not much. Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer in the U.S., accounting for one in four American deaths each and every day.
The saddest part is, as I’ve said before, it’s not because we don’t know how to change these statistics! We know that what we eat is critical. But because changing diet is hard for most patients, doctors have given up on food and only throw pills at the problem. The result is waiting rooms full of people with perfect “numbers” who are not much further ahead on true health.
By now, you know I had a different reaction. I created Step One Foods to make it a whole lot easier for my patients to add heart-healthy whole food ingredients naturally high in fiber, plant sterols, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to their diets. Because I believe that if a health condition is caused in part or in whole by diet, the first step should be to CHANGE THE FOOD!
And we’ve shown that this approach works. It works so well, in fact, that if everyone in the country were to follow the Step One program, heart disease might finally fall to second place as a health threat (after cancer) – without ever needing to resort to drugs. Something that the AHA has not been able to accomplish for almost 100 years despite receiving close to $1 Billion in annual funding, putting out countless treatment guidelines, championing awareness campaigns, and supporting heart disease research.
That doesn’t mean the AHA’s efforts have been without effect. Guidelines, education and research all make a difference. As do medications. I prescribe drugs all the time. But it is time to recognize that we’ve been too quick to abandon the basics.
Some organizations do seem to be catching on. This year, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is encouraging Americans to improve heart health together, citing research that shows personal health goals are better met when you join forces with others. They’re devoting the second week of February to healthy eating, suggesting heart-healthy potlucks, recipe sharing, etc. Our suggestion? Tell someone you know that’s struggling with eating healthfully about Step One Foods. Encourage them to join our community for help and support – even if it’s just to read the weekly blog.
At Step One, we will be wearing red this Friday knowing that our company promotes heart health EVERY DAY of the year – addressing the root cause of the problem, not just treating the symptoms. Perhaps if everyone followed our lead, we just might have a real reason to celebrate American Heart Month by next February.