February is American Heart Health Month and an important time to highlight the importance of efforts to improve heart health in Louisiana. Over the past year, the Louisiana Department of Health’s Well-Ahead Louisiana initiative within the Office of Public Health, in collaboration with other partners across the state, received technical assistance and guidance through a grant from the National Governors Association (NGA) to focus on improving heart health in Louisiana.

Heart disease and stroke are two of the top three causes of death in Louisiana, with nearly 30 residents dying every day from heart disease. With support from the NGA, the Department of Health and its partners developed a learning collaborative team to help providers and community leaders implement important changes to improve overall heart health, especially in rural areas of the state.

“Our rural areas have experienced the highest rates of heart disease,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards, “With over 80 percent of our state being considered rural, we’re grateful for NGA’s support to help us extend life-saving preventive care to all corners of Louisiana.”

The American Heart Association recommends being aware of five key measures to determine a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease: total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI).

Thanks to this initiative, each visitor to a parish health unit now receives a blood pressure screening. Louisiana’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) also began implementing TargetBP to help patients better manage their blood pressure. In addition, the Department of Health increased the number of WellSpots in the state, which are workplaces in Louisiana that voluntarily implement healthy changes to help their employees and community live healthier.  

“Making small healthy choices daily can have a great impact on the cardiovascular health of our state. Having regular check-ins with your doctor and knowing your risks of developing heart disease is also important,” said Gov. Edwards.

Other ways to reduce health risk include adding physical activity to your daily routine, eating a balanced diet and not smoking.

“An active lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by half, as well as reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. “Combining that with making healthy food choices and quitting tobacco will further decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease.”

To build off these recent changes, the Department will launch a new grant-funded program aimed at helping women reduce their risk for heart disease and stroke. The WISEWOMAN program will provide free health screenings to eligible women ages 40 to 64 at qualifying health centers throughout the state. Women who are found to have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol will receive a no-cost care plan that includes clinical care and access to programs to help her eat healthy, move more or quit smoking.

To learn more about how you can be a leader for heart health, visit www.wellaheadla.com/bealeader.