By Lilian Peake, MD
Director, Health Services
Cardiovascular disease is a leading killer of South Carolinians and many of these deaths are avoidable. Communities, employers, health professionals and families can all play a role in preventing this disease.
This is particularly important in South Carolina: In 2015, there were more than 50,000 hospitalizations for heart disease, at a cost of more than $3.2 billion.
South Carolina’s heart disease death rate is above the national average and higher than our neighbors, North Carolina and Georgia. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s State Health Facts, in 2014 the heart disease death rate in the United States was 167 per 100,000 people. In South Carolina the death rate is 8 percent higher than the US rate and 14 percent higher than in North Carolina (181.1, compared to 158.7).
There are also disparities among groups affected. For example, the rate among African-Americans outpaces all others. The Palmetto State also has high rates of the conditions that lead to this disease, such as obesity and diabetes.
Much work has been done in an effort to turn the tide. We at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) consider our role key to helping achieve the level of improvement needed. Our vision is “Healthy people living in healthy communities.”
DHEC works with numerous community partners to improve cardiovascular health for all.
We assist in implementing CDC-recognized diabetes prevention programs and train lifestyle coaches.
DHEC also offers a heart disease and stroke prevention program called WISEWOMAN. This is offered at no cost to eligible women ages 40 to 64. Women are screened for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity; they obtain medical follow-up and referrals for abnormal screening results as well as referrals to free or low-cost community programs, such as workout classes, diabetes education, and free sessions with a personal health coach.
DHEC partners with the SC Institute of Medicine and Public Health to facilitate the implementation of the state’s Obesity Action Plan through the SCaledown initiative.
We work with communities to encourage policies, systems and environmental changes that lead to improved access to healthy foods and active lifestyles. One example is the Farm to Institution program where we partner with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education. We educate the public, partner with health systems, and design wellness programs statewide.
DHEC also funds the Quitline to help South Carolinians quit smoking.
Other organizations, including the South Carolina Hospital Association, the South Carolina Chapter of the American Heart Association, A Million Hearts, the South Carolina Medical Association, the Heart2Heart Foundation and more are also doing admirable work in an effort to address this important health issue.
But there is much more work to do. We need your help. You too play an important role in improving heart health in South Carolina. And what better time to get started than this month — American Heart Month?
So what are some things you can do?
- Commit to a healthy lifestyle — exercise daily, eat healthier and take medication as prescribed.
- Stop Call 800-Quit-NOW for free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges to eligible South Carolinians.
- Become a WISEWOMAN participant if eligible; call 800-227-2345 to see if you qualify.
- Have your blood pressure checked.
- Create physical activities such as walking or group exercise at work.
Obviously, there are many more actions we can take as employers, health care providers or families. With the right level of commitment, we can improve heart health in South Carolina. Will you help?