- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

Women are seeing red over the latest program from the American Heart Association, dubbed the “Go Red for Women” campaign.

The American Heart Association Web site (www.americanheart.org) currently features actress Daryl Hannah posing in a skimpy outfit that she probably found in Janet Jackson’s wardrobe. Miss Hannah wants us to sign up to receive information about the risks of heart disease in women.

Why would women ever be perturbed about that? Because this one-sided campaign overlooks the fact that men have hearts, too.

Wondering if the feminist campaign for gender equality had somehow gotten side-tracked, I contacted the AHA for an explanation. Here’s what spokeswoman Toiya Honore had to say: “When many people think of heart disease or heart attack, the image that comes to mind is the middle-aged white male clutching his chest.”

Ms. Honore’s comment may be true, but misses the key point. That “middle-aged white male” also happens to be married, with a wife and kids.

When that husband and father suddenly dies, he leaves behind a devastated family. Mom is now saddled with the additional burdens of becoming the primary breadwinner and household repairman. She has also lost her confidant, lover and soulmate.

That’s not all. When his widow reaches her Golden Years, she will be 4 times likelier to be warehoused in a nursing home (according to a study by Lois Vergrugge), compared to a married woman the same age.

In contrast to that “middle-aged white male,” women who die of heart disease are typically in their 50s and 60s. Usually they are not the primary breadwinner of a struggling family, and their children are already grown.

Ms. Honore offers a second justification for the Heart Association’s campaign that again is technically correct, but misses the bigger picture. Ms. Honore notes, “Overall, more women die from cardiovascular disease than men.” It is true that of all persons who die of heart disease, 52 percent are female and 48 percent are male.

But even a first-year public health student can spot the flaw in that logic. Go to the nursing home in your community, and you will see that most of the residents are female. And heart disease is a condition of older people. So of course women hold a numerical edge in the heart disease tallies. That’s a no-brainer.

But crude numbers are notoriously inadequate in guiding program priorities. For example, far fewer blacks than whites die of heart disease. If we only relied on raw numbers, we would start shutting down programs for blacks and other minorities.

And knowing that more men die of cancer than women, is the Heart Association also calling for a halt in breast cancer research? I certainly hope not.

The only accurate gauge of need is a person’s risk. The risk of dying of heart disease is 228 per 100,000 for white males, and only 134 among white females. In other words, men face a 70 percent higher risk of dying from this dread disease. The American Heart Association knows these facts — it report them on Page 10 of AHA’s own 2004 Statistical Update.

American men die an average of 5 years before women. If it were not for the unequal gender toll of heart disease, men would live almost as long as women. And far fewer women would spend their last years alone, gazing blankly at the cinderblock walls of a nursing home.

Forty years ago, the American Heart Association sponsored a conference on “Hearts and Husbands.” This conference, which taught women how to keep their husbands healthy and alive, was attended by 10,000 wives and wives-to-be.

Those women had far greater compassion and common sense than the radical feminists who are now calling the shots at the American Heart Association.

CAREY ROBERTS

Mr. Roberts is a writer and media analyst.

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