- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2001

Congress has focused national attention on cardiovascular disease since 1963 by designating each February as American Heart Month. The American Heart Association (AHA) has worked with every president since then to help prepare the annual proclamation.

Since its inception in 1924, the association has taken the lead in spreading the word about taking care of a muscle that pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through the human body every day.

With the sobering statistic that heart disease consistently has been the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, the association constantly preaches increased awareness of the importance of diet, exercise and research to eradicate cardiovascular disorders.

The association's Web site mirrors that mission by giving visitors a wide range of tools and information that potentially could extend or save a life.

American Heart Association

Site address: www.americanheart.org


Headquartered in Dallas, the American Heart Association is a nonprofit, voluntary health organization funded by private contributions and consisting of about 4.2 million volunteers.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site in order to provide lifesaving cardiovascular and stroke information available to the physician, patient and public when and where they need it," says Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, AHA president. "With the evolution of the Web as a source of health information, the American Heart Association must be sure that the public gets the most accurate, up-to-date and evidence-based information when they search the Web."

Word from the Webwise:

In a 70-year lifetime, the average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times. This overworked organ can use all the help it can get to stay in top condition, and the AHA site offers a load of ammunition to help users accomplish this goal.

The front page offers quick access to the site's major sections "Warning Signs," "Heart and Stroke A-Z Guide," Family Health," "Risk Awareness," all of which are relevant to the average health-minded individual. In addition, a drop-down menu targets 18 specific topics, such as arrhythmia, blood pressure and medication management.

Visitors with a specific question should start with the "Heart and Stroke A-Z Guide," which quickly links to hundreds of pages within the site. Organized alphabetically, the seemingly infinite list of categories covers everything from antiphospholipid syndrome (characterized by a decrease in the number of blood platelets) to the use of folic acid to animal research to statistics on cigarette smoking.

Stop by "Warning Signs" for an explanation of heart attack and stroke symptoms and find links to a health-risk awareness quiz and a stroke risk-factor calculator to determine your potential for succumbing to these health problems.

Another place to peruse casually, "Family Health," leads to a maze of topics to keep the entire clan fit and informed. I really liked the "Getting More Out of the Visit Talking With Your Doctor" feature.

Some areas of the site are actually minisites with their own unique look and targeted demographics, such as "Take Wellness," which highlights help for women, or "Emergency Cardiovascular Care Programs" for the lowdown on courses about cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency situations.

Another part of the site gives a visitor total cyber-management for lowering his or her risk of heart disease or stroke through access to personalized diets and health regimes. Users must fill out an extensive form (much as for a first appointment with a doctor) that takes about 15 minutes and get a password and user name.

The two main interactive programs are "Choose to Move" and "One of a Kind." "Chose to Move" is a 12-week program that focuses on helping women increase their daily physical activity level. "One of a Kind" offers everyone tailored information on problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol and designing a healthier diet and exercise plan.

Other areas worth a look include FAQs (frequently asked questions) from Dr. Goodheart dealing with children's health; a place to send colorful electronic cards to loved ones; and a section on how to help the AHA through donations or volunteering.

Ease of use:

Overall, this massive cyber-stop uses a site map, search engine and linked pages to help visitors navigate the site. Download times are quick, thanks to small icons and mainly text-based pages.

One strange problem is that I could not easily find the history of the association anywhere on the site. Only after about 30 minutes of looking did I unearth the story under "Heart and Stroke A-Z Guide."

No plug-ins, other than Adobe Acrobat, are needed to view the pages. Also, an AHA spokesperson says the site will be redesigned in July to better manage its content through improved navigation tools and a speedier interface.

Don't miss:

With obesity increasing in this country, it appears food is a major source of pleasure to the average American. Click over to the "Family Diet and Nutrition" section to access the Delicious Decisions minisite (www.deliciousdecisions.org) for a well-balanced look at the foods we eat and how nutritious can still be delicious.

The site cleverly resembles a cookbook and contains smart-shopping secrets, a food pyramid, food labeling news, quizzes, information on weight-loss methods and tons of recipes. I especially enjoyed the recipe search engine, which within seconds gave me 20 healthy appetizers, complete with nutritional breakdowns, to consume as I turn into a couch potato.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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