Heart disease (cardiovascular disease) is the number one cause of death in the United States, as it is worldwide. Coronary heart disease accounts for two-thirds of the American total of heart-related deaths, with congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, pulmonary heart disease and rheumatic heart disease accounting for much of the rest. As a result, heart disease and circulatory problems are major health issues in the United States. The issues that surround these diseases are never far from public view. Heart disease kills so many Americans, often prematurely, and frightens so many more. Social and cultural issues also come into play. As an example, the death rate from heart disease is significantly higher for black Americans than for whites, both because of diminished access to medical care and because of less-healthy diets.
Living a “healthy” lifestyle, which connotes regular exercise and a health low-fat diet, might be one of the key means of preventing circulatory problems, but in everyday American life, it is often more the ideal than the reality. Certain food substances thought to contribute to heart disease, like cholesterol and salt, have developed almost a personality of their own, and an evil one. Salt (actually the sodium in salt) has a link to high blood pressure. The American public tends to overreact to news, sometimes unsubstantiated, suggesting that foods such as salt or eggs are “bad for you” (rather than bad for only some of us). Some Americans avoid added salt altogether, even though they may not have the slightest sign of high blood pressure. The American processed food industry has long produced “heart-healthy” product lines. American restaurants might offer specific menu items, often indicated by the image of a heart, that appeal to the health conscious. Hearts are big business in America.
The American pharmaceutical industry is large and well organized, and depends on heart-related drugs for a good portion of its profits. Television commercials for these products are elaborate and sophisticated, often to a frightening extent. Many suggest that diet and exercise are not enough to prevent heart disease, and hence death from heart disease.
Depending on the statistical source, up to two-thirds of Americans are overweight, a quality that usually connotes consumption of unhealthy foods and a heart-risk. The key to all this is that Americans are sensitive to the issues of heart health probably more than any other health issue, even if so many Americans continue to jeopardize their health by eating too much, eating the wrong things, and by getting virtually no regular exercise.
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