In 1963, the U.S. Congress requested the President issue a proclamation designating February as American Heart Month. Beginning in 1964, these presidential proclamations have urged Americans to take action for the prevention and control of diseases of the heart and blood vessels and their major risk factors. These proclamations typically inform Americans of the huge social, economic, and human toll of heart disease and adverse trends such as the rising tide of risk factors and associated health care costs. The grim statistics quoted annually can truly spell bad news! As President Obama noted in this year’s proclamation, heart disease is “a staggering health problem” and remains the “leading cause of death for American women and men.”
Recent data supporting genuine concern about heart health are well-documented in the 2011 update of the Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics published by the American Heart Association (AHA), in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other government agencies. There was also three recent publications of note in the Lancet on cholesterol, blood pressure, and obesity.
Its clear more work still needs to be done but we also want to share the good news! For example, over the most recent decade for which complete data are available (1997 – 2007), the annual death rate due to heart attacks declined 26.3%, and the actual number of deaths declined 12.9%. In fact, death rates from heart attacks have fallen dramatically from their peak in 1963 (when the American Heart Month observance was established) to the level today. To put this in perspective, for every 100,000 Americans, there were 429 deaths from heart attack in 1963 compared to 126 deaths in 2007.
We know that about half of these dramatic declines are attributable to improvements in treatments such as heart bypass surgery, angioplasty, stents, and the use of safe and powerful drugs after heart attack, chest pain, and heart failure. The major concern is that the skyrocketing trend in the cost of care for heart disease is unlikely to be sustainable much longer. The cost of care for heart disease will triple from $273 billion to $818 billion by 2030, according to a recent report by the AHA.
Now, here is the really good news. We also know that the other half of the dramatic declines in heart attack deaths can be attributed to lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, lower burden of cigarette smoking, and increased physical activity – all of which contributed about 44% to the dramatic decline in heart attack deaths from 1980 – 2000. The good news is that the impressive reductions in mean blood pressure and cholesterol have continued, not just in the U.S. but in many regions of the world as shown in the recent publications in the Lancet on cholesterol and blood pressure. In fact, had we been able to also decrease the burden of obesity and diabetes, there would have been an additional 18% decrease in number of heart attack deaths in the U.S. based on the data for 1980-2000. Clearly, the continuing burden of obesity and diabetes remains the major cause for concern.
At PepsiCo, we firmly believe that our major human sustainability commitments to reduce salt, added sugar and saturated fat; and increase the amount of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and low-fat dairy in our global portfolio provide consumers more options to positively impact major risk factors and to achieve further reductions in heart attack and heart disease risk. In addition to optimizing basic nutrition, we have the opportunity to explore specific functional nutrients which may contribute to further reductions in heart disease risk factors.
The strong commitments we have made in the marketplace and community may also contribute to consumers’ understanding of what it takes to prevent and control obesity, diabetes, and the other risk factors for heart disease. These commitments include our front-of-package calorie labeling; restrictions in advertising to children under age 12; further restrictions in the direct sale of full-sugar soft drinks in primary and secondary schools; increasing the availability of foods and beverages that offer solutions for managing calories; and expanding both PepsiCo Corporate and PepsiCo Foundation initiatives to promote healthier communities, including enhancing diet and physical activity programs.
As we observe another American Heart Month, we reaffirm our support for programs such as the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation both of which are committed to reducing obesity – especially childhood obesity. We also express our thanks to the many researchers, health professionals, and heart health visionaries whose efforts have led to the dramatic declines in heart disease death rates we see in Americans today. We look forward to continued engagement with you and especially to your input and guidance as to how best we contribute to continuing progress in improving heart health in the U.S. and abroad.