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Ah, February—the month of excessive Russel Stover Chocolate hearts, many rom-coms, and copious amounts of baking. I mean I’m a sucker for the big Russel Stover Heart Chocolates—to the point I finish the entire box by myself—whoops. But maybe we should take a step back from the chocolate? Maybe instead of just focusing on our hearts metaphorically, we should look more into focusing on our hearts in the scientific sense.

As the United States gets older, the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) increases dramatically. CVD is drastically increasing, and has become the number one cause of death in the United States. The leading risk factor tied with CVD is hypertension caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and smoking. According to the data found by the National Health and Nutrition and Examination Survey, 49.7% of adults above the age of 20 have one of these three risk factors. CVDs, such as strokes, cause one in three deaths reported each year in the United States. With the rates of CVDs on the rise, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health is working to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in five years, through the One Million Hearts Model. CVD consists of coronary artery disease, heart attacks, heart failure, heart muscle disease, anginas and strokes.

Due to these risks and the statistics, an evidence-based approach, the Million Heart Model, is implemented to solve this issue and lower the rates of CVD. The basic goal of the Million Heart Risk Reduction Model is to determine whether, and through what mechanisms, the model can improve care for CVD. This model was developed by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare and the CDC and worked towards finding prevention methods. The model will improve management of the ABCs, allowing higher education on aspirin use, access to blood pressure and aspirin medication, more physical activity and smoking cessation. The model will conduct a five-year randomized trial, then create a ten-year risk plan for individuals, which includes creating and implementing policies. The goal is that together patients, physicians, and public health officials can combat the risk factors of CVD. Modern medicine has done so much good for many people as our medical knowledge and technology has become more advanced in recent years. This model combined with policies assist the goal of decreasing rates of CVD. One of the most important aspects of this model are the ABCS. A is for Aspirin use, B is for Blood pressure control, C is for cholesterol control and S is for Smoking cessation. Would you look at that—taking care of our hearts is as easy as “ABC”!

I believe that it is crucial that these policies be put into place, as they all work towards declining the rates of CVD through preventive measures. Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of CVD; therefore it is essential to decrease the number of people buying and using tobacco. We can combat these problems by increasing the unit price, forming smoke-free laws and including graphic images that would persuade users to quit smoking or decrease their tobacco intake. Increasing the unit price of tobacco could be a financial burden on many American adults, limiting the amount of tobacco they buy. Smoke free laws are implemented to provide private and public rules and regulations that prohibit smoking and tobacco use in both the workplace and public areas to create a smoke free community standard. Lastly, using graphic images can change the beliefs American adults have towards tobacco use. Seeing disturbing images of the effects of smoking or seeing warning labels that relate to the user can trigger Americans to reflect on their actions and change their outlook on smoking.

To combat these issues, we should work with our government officials, employers, grocery stores, physicians and public health officials to control tobacco use, increase physical activity, provide healthier food options and gain access to medication. Tobacco use should be regulated through policies that make it more difficult to smoke and buy tobacco. Similarly, policies should be implemented to increase physical activity, allowing adults to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Physical activity in American adults has drastically declined. The majority of American adults spend at least 8 hours a day sitting at a desk, only getting up for bathroom breaks or a snack, causing a lack of physical activity. Employers and workplaces should encourage physical activity for their employees with a gym, treadmill, or small breaks. An average adult should walk at least 30 minutes a day, in order to have a fit and healthy heart. Workplaces should provide these facilities to benefit their workers and help increase their cardiovascular fitness.

Additionally, I believe that there should be more initiative towards eating healthier and providing healthier options. Americans are more likely to eat processed food than an apple. A five-year study concluded that for every 10% increase in consumption of processed food, there was a 12% increased risk for health issues. Processed foods include unhealthy levels of added sugar, sodium and fat. More than half of the food consumed everyday by Americans is ultra-processed food. Processed food is cheaper than healthier options, making a box of mac n’ cheese a dollar, but a box of strawberries four dollars. Therefore, buying processed food is more financially beneficial but detrimental to our bodies. I believe that policies should be put into place in order to decrease the prices of healthier options as well as provide healthier options at workplaces, cafeterias and restaurants to encourage Americans to eat healthier, preventing increased risk of CVD.

Furthermore, CVD rates can decline by controlling the use of aspirin and blood pressure medication. Doctors should be aware of their patient’s history and provide them with the appropriate medication. Aspirin and blood pressure medication are crucial in controlling blood pressure as well as cardiovascular disease. However, abundance and availability of this medication has become an issue, making it difficult for patients to receive their medication. Patients should gain more access to these medications by implementing Medicare and Medicaid policies. I believe that it is critical for the patient’s health to have access to medication. Therefore, these policies should work towards making these more available.

The best approach to decreasing CVD rates is to focus on the individual needs of Americans and provide them with the specific care they need. These policies provide a way to holistically attack the issue of CVD. Through basic care, we have not been able to change the fate of individuals, but maybe by putting prevention first we can half the disease before it reaches patients.

And maybe, this Valentine’s, don’t skip the workout before binge watching that rom-com with ice-cream or having a Galantine’s party. Do both for your heart—to keep it healthy emotionally and physically.

She's obsessed with black coffee, photography, Grey's Anatomy, and trying new food when not working on her Neuroscience/PUBH coursework.
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