Young women are more worried about depression and anxiety than they are about heart health, despite heart disease being a leading cause of death in the United States.
This was among the conclusions of two preliminary studies presented at the American Heart Association’s latest meeting, Epidemiology and Prevention: Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions.
Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., science volunteer for the American Heart Association, says the findings show it is important to help women understand heart health is a long-term goal.
She adds: “We can help encourage young women to adopt healthy behaviors, like moving more and eating smart, to improve confidence in the short term while setting them up for a healthy future.”
A total of 331 Boston women aged 15 to 24 were surveyed, with 32 participants being asked to give more detailed responses in eight online focus groups.
Holly Gooding, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, observes: “We know that health behaviors and heart disease risk factors track strongly from childhood into adulthood, and that prevention of heart disease must start with youth.
“We wanted to know what adolescent and young adult women knew about the risk of heart disease and what factors influenced their understanding and their behaviors.”
Minority see heart disease as leading cause of death
Just 10% of the women surveyed, all of whom were waiting for primary care or women’s healthcare appointments, identified heart disease as a leading cause of death in women.
Almost 40% (39.6 %), said they worried “little” and 37.2 % said they “didn’t worry at all” about getting heart disease. In contrast, 42.9% of those surveyed said they “worried a lot” about developing depression or anxiety.
When the team looked at healthy behaviors, they found that most of the women, 84.6%, had undertaken at least one in the last year. Most, 78.9 %, had visited a doctor to monitor or improve their health, 74.6 % had exercised, and 52.6% had tried to reduce stress, lose weight or improve their diet.
The most common barriers to “heart-healthy actions” were failing to perceive the risk of heart disease, which accounted for 39.3% of people, and stress, which accounted for 32.6 %.
Time constraints, lack access to affordable gyms and healthy foods, and competing health priorities such as pregnancy, depression and concerns about weight, were all also found to be barriers.
Take care of your heart health
Courtney Brown, research specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, notes: “It is important for young women to know that while their short-term risk of heart disease is very low, their lifetime risk is often quite high, and taking care of their health now is important for reducing their lifetime risk of heart disease.”
Helping women understand the importance of looking after their hearts in the long-term is paramount, the study authors say.
“We need to meet young women where they are physically, and on social media, in school settings and in a variety of medical settings, such as urgent care and reproductive health clinics,” says Gooding.
The community should also meet women “where they are mentally” by focusing messages on “things that matter to them, like mood and sexual health”, she finishes..
More immediate concerns beat heart health in the priorities and behaviors of young women. (2019, March 5). American Heart Association – Poster 050, Session PO1-G, Poster 142, Session PO1-R. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/more-immediate-concerns-beat-heart-health-in-the-priorities-and-behaviors-of-young-women. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/aha-mic022719.php