A new report launched today by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) warns that the majority of women in the UK are dangerously unaware of the deadly threat of coronary heart disease (CHD). It calls for immediate action to tackle the number one killer of women.
According to the BHF's new report, 'Take Note of Your Heart', only one in four women recognise that CHD is the single biggest threat to their life expectancy, while 40 per cent consider cancer the greatest threat. In reality, in 2001 CHD claimed the lives of over 54,000 women in the UK - more than four times that of breast cancer.
This mistaken view is most exaggerated in younger women, when a lifestyle to prevent heart disease ideally should have been adopted. A survey commissioned by the organisation showed that only around a tenth of 16-24 year olds 'fear' CHD, while almost half 'fear' lung and breast cancer.
The report also emphasises that, contrary to popular belief, heart disease is as much a woman's problem as a man's, and urges women to take greater responsibility for their own heart health. It also calls on the British press and TV drama to redress the balance when representing heart disease in women as well as men.
Professor Sir Charles George, Medical Director at the BHF, said:"High profile campaigns have already successfully raised awareness of disease areas such as breast cancer - whereas, in fact, women are more at risk from CHD. The media and health professionals have a responsibility to bridge this communications gap and to help women help themselves."
While death rates from CHD are falling overall, the decline in women (38 per cent) in the UK (between 1988-1998) is slower than in men (39 per cent) and than in women in countries such as Australia (52 per cent) and Denmark (45 per cent).
In addition, despite better availability of treatments to prevent heart disease, at least 1.2 million women are now living with heart disease and this figure is rising.
The survey also found that nearly a third of women are overweight and a fifth are obese, 40 per cent of women have high blood pressure and more women are now suffering from diabetes - increasing their risk of CHD by at least three times.
Professor Sir Charles George added:"Fighting heart disease in women is a national concern, since one in six women will die of the disease. Women of all ages need to be more aware of their hearts and turn increased knowledge into action to reduce their risks."
The new report is launched as part of the BHF's latest educational campaign, 'Take Note of Your Heart', urging women to be more aware of their hearts and to take a positive step towards heart health improvement. The organisation has developed a national advertising campaign focusing on high blood pressure as one of the major risk factors for coronary heart disease.
It has also launched a new 'Women and Health' website which provides news and advice on heart health and disease, including facts and a 'Virtual Fridge' healthy-eating tool.