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City ranks among worst for women’s hearts

by Courtney Ellicott
American Heart & Stroke Association
A study of 49 mid-sized U.S. cities ranked the Charleston area, which included North Charleston, 37th in terms of women’s heart friendliness, making it one of the least desirable places for women’s heart health.
The study that grouped cities by size also found that several South Carolina cities earned the unfortunate distinction of being among the top five worst places for women’s heart health, while cities in the West ranked highest for women’s heart health, according to the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women study by Sperling’s Best Places.
To combat heart disease and improve lifestyles for women, MUSC’s Heart & Vascular Center is the local sponsor for Go Red for Women. The MUSC-led group campaigns for heart health in women and regularly conducts outreach and education programs, such as the annual Women’s Heart Symposium in April; heart health screenings and clinics that are offered throughout the Tri-county area.
Because heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women nationwide, the AHA study examined various heart health criteria of the 200 most populous U.S. metro areas, including heart-related fatalities, lifestyle offerings and choices, diet, etc.
The cities were divided into three categories according to population: mega metros with 1.45 million-plus; mid-sized metros with 560 million to 1.45 million; and all other metros with a population of 560,000 or fewer people. Regardless of metro size, all rankings were based upon the heart-friendly benefits each city had to offer and the personal lifestyle choices of its residents.
Specifically, the study found that Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston and Phoenix reported the lowest female cardiac mortality rates in the country; Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis reported the highest. San Francisco, Denver and Los Angeles were the thinnest mega metros; Cleveland, San Antonio and Columbus were among the most overweight. Washington, D.C., surprisingly, reported the lowest stress ratings of all the mega metros while Portland, Ore., reported the highest stress levels in the category. Generally, California and Colorado cities scored well in the heart friendly cities study; the metros that scored the lowest in the study were found in the South and Midwest.

Mega metros top 10 best heart-friendly cities
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI; Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV; San Francisco-San Jose-Oakland, Calif.; Denver-Aurora, Colo.; Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wa.; Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA ; San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.; and Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Az.

Mega metros 10 worst heart-friendly cities
Indianapolis, Ind.; Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio; Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.; Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich.; St. Louis, Mo.-Ill.; and Nashville-Davidson—Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Mid-sized top 10 heart-friendly cities
Salt Lake City, Utah; Honolulu; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Rochester, N.Y.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.; Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Conn.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Boise City-Nampa, Idaho.

10 least heart-friendly mid-sized cities
Birmingham-Hoover, Ala.; Lakeland, Fla.; Tulsa, Okla.; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, La.; Memphis, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio/Pa.; Greenville; and Greensboro-High Point, N.C.

Remaining or smaller metro areas top five heart-friendly cities
Boulder, Colo.; Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.; Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.; and Ann Arbor, Mich.

Least heart-friendly smaller cities
Florence; Montgomery, Ala.; Anderson; Terre Haute, Ind.; and Spartanburg.
Other South Carolina cities in the survey included mid-sized cities: Columbia, which ranked number 33; and Greenville, 40. All smaller market cities in South Carolina proved among the least heart-friendly, notably Myrtle Beach-Conway, which ranked 118; Florence, 126; Anderson, 128; and Spartanburg, 130.
Marian Taylor, M.D., co-director of MUSC’s Women’s Heart Care program, is not surprised by the poor showing for South Carolina cities.
“Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death among South Carolina women,” Taylor said. “This is exactly why we have the Women’s Heart Care program at MUSC. As the official GoRed sponsor in Charleston, we work closely with the American Heart Association to educate women about the risk factors for heart disease. Women need to take action, talk to their doctors and know their numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, blood sugar and exercise.
“Prevention is the key to putting Charleston women at the top of the next ‘heart-friendly city’ list—lifestyle modifications, including a heart-healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight, can make all the difference,” she said.
The research analyzed 22 factors for each location including smoking, obesity, cardiac mortality rate and regular exercise among women.

Heart friendly tips
Regardless of where your city falls on the list, heart disease in the 50 states outpaces all other killer diseases in women. Living in a heart-friendly city does not automatically equate to heart healthy, and the reverse also is true. Even for those living in South Carolina, heart disease is largely preventable by lowering risks through important lifestyle changes.
  • Eat healthy. Learn the basics about a heart healthy diet with Go Red tools and tips for balanced nutrition, delicious recipes and more.
  • Get physically active. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity improves cardiovascular fitness and helps reduce risk of heart disease and stroke. You can incorporate physical activity into your daily routines with Choose to Move, a 12-week physical activity and nutrition program that can be customized to fit every lifestyle. Register at
  • Know your numbers. Tracking blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and weight numbers can help you to keep them in a healthy range. To learn more about your 10-year personal risk for heart disease, take the Go Red for Women Heart Check-Up at
  • Build community. Join the Go Red for Women online community to share heart health stories and connect with women who share a passion for women’s heart health nationwide.
  • Make a difference. Support the HEART For Women Act and other policies to help make the nation’s cities heart healthier for all. Visit to access tools to help you communicate directly with members of Congress.
The study found that the Charleston area was considered “fair” in terms of heart-friendliness. The categories included physicians per capita; regular exercise; routine check ups; fast food outlets per capita; health care affordability; cardiologists per capita;  teaching hospitals per capita; and commute by bike or walking
Areas that need improvement are cardiac mortality; prescriptions for control of hypertension and cholesterol; diagnoses of diabetes, high cholesterol, and  hypertension; obesity/ body mass index; cigarette smoking; ability to afford health care; available hospital beds per capita; healthy eating; alcohol consumption; stress index; and smoke-free legislation.

Friday, May 23, 2008
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