Of more than 6,000 women without known heart disease whose waistlines were measured on Women's Heart Day, February 18, 2005, the study found that 90 percent had at least one major risk factor for heart disease, and one-third had three or more. These risk factors included high cholesterol and high blood pressure, among others. Increased waist circumference was also correlated with a woman's 10-year chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.
"Measuring waist circumference may be a simple method that women can identify themselves as being at increased heart-attack risk and empower them to seek further evaluation and possible treatment from their doctors," says lead author Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
A substantial proportion of women screened were found to have major risk factors for heart disease they were unaware of. Nearly half of all women with elevated cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) did not report a history of being told they had abnormal cholesterol from a health-care provider. Alarmingly, 43 percent of women who participated in the screening had blood glucose above what is considered normal (< 100 mg/dL). And, 16 percent of women with no documented history of hypertension had elevated blood pressure (> 140/90 mmHg) that should receive intervention based on national standards.
According to Dr. Mosca, who also serves as the chief medical advisor for the Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, "These findings underscore the need to educate women about their personal risk of cardiovascular disease and educate them that where there is one risk factor present, there are likely more. Lifestyle is critical in treating the risk factors for heart-disease-related conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes that are associated with abdominal obesity and each other. Weight management, good nutrition, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking can go a long way to lowering overall cardiovascular risk. Because so many participants in our screening program were unaware of their risk, our study makes clear that women need to ask their physician if they have any of these risk factors."
Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, Inc. is a not-for-profit grassroots organization founded in 2000 by Mrs. Irene Pollin with a mission to bring free heart-disease screenings and "heart-healthy" prevention information and support to women nationwide. Since its inception, Sister to Sister has touched the lives of thousands of women through the National Woman's Heart DayŽ Campaign. So far, nearly 20,000 women of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds have been screened for cardiovascular disease risk factors.
"We now know that these screenings provide an additional and unforeseen benefit," says Mrs. Pollin. "Not only have they allowed us to identify and educate women at risk, but they have provided a rich opportunity for research that will be useful in educating the millions of women who may not be able to attend the screenings in person but are at risk of heart disease."