BATON ROUGE - Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Louisiana, killing more than 12,000 men and women statewide in 2007 alone. This year, as Louisiana residents prepare to celebrate Valentine's Day, the Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) is reminding residents that the best gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of a healthy heart.

February is American Heart Health Month, and there are many positive steps you can take to prevent and control cardiovascular disease.  

 "As the No. 1 killer of Americans, cardiovascular disease has touched every person in our state one way or another. We want Louisianians to live strong, healthy lives, and that means taking care of our hearts. The fact is, we have some control over our heart health, and we can make decisions now that can help us avoid the doctor's office and be around for many years to enjoy special times with our loved ones," LDH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said.

Cardiovascular disease is linked to a number of factors, many of which can be improved by making healthier lifestyle choices. According to the National Institutes of Health, Americans can lower their risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent by taking simple steps such as exercising more and making better food choices.

In Louisiana, health statistics demonstrate the state has a lot of areas residents can work on to reduce their risk of death or disability from heart disease. For example:

  • Louisiana had the sixth highest mortality rate due to heart disease among the 50 states and D.C. in 2007, and ninth highest mortality rate for strokes;
  • 36.9 percent of Louisiana adults reported having high cholesterol in 2009;
  • 35.7 percent of adult Louisianans reported suffering from high blood pressure in 2009;
  • In 2009, 22.1 percent of Louisiana adults reported that they currently smoked; and
  •  More than half (67.6 percent) of all Louisiana adults were overweight or obese in 2009.

The Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program (HDSP) within LDH has a statewide plan designed to reduce heart disease and strokes among Louisiana residents. The plan focuses on environmental strategies and policy changes that support good nutrition, enhanced physical activity and decreased occurrence of risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

"There is a lot we can do to stay heart healthy and reduce the chance of cardiovascular disease, and Valentine's Day is the perfect time of year to make people aware of steps they can take," said Marisa Marino, Manager of the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program. "We should all prevent and control factors that put us at greater risk, such as increasing exercise, eating more nutritious foods and avoiding tobacco use."

To emphasize LDH's commitment to fighting heart disease and stroke, Secretary Greenstein serves as this year's State of Louisiana team leader for the Capital Area Heart Walk March 26 at the LSU Old Front Nine. Heart Walks will be held across the nation throughout the year. To learn more about the American Heart Association and find a Heart Walk near you, visit

The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's blog at, Twitter at and search for the Louisiana Department of Health on Facebook.