HHS News
Friday, February 7, 2003
Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
(301) 496- 4236


HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced the launch of a new national partnership with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and top fashion designers to raise awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of American women.

The centerpiece of The Heart Truth campaign is the "Red Dress Project," which is being launched today in New York City by HHS' National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI); top fashion designers; Mercedes-Benz USA; and 7th on Sixth, the producers of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

"Many people still believe that cardiovascular disease is a man's disease, when in reality, it has claimed the lives of more females than males since 1984, killing more than half a million women a year," Secretary Thompson said. "However, many risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity are controllable. That means each of us can take steps to help reduce our risks and prevent this deadly disease."

The Red Dress Project includes a collection of 19 red dresses from America's most prestigious designers. The dresses symbolize the fact that heart disease is a woman's health issue as well as a man's. The dresses will be exhibited, along with information about women and heart disease, in Bryant Park, Feb. 7-14, when American designers unveil their new designs for the fall. The Red Dress Project exhibit will also feature a photograph by David LaChapelle of model Angela Lindvall in a dress designed by Donna Karan. Also debuting during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is a specially designed red dress pin, created by leading accessory designer Angela Cummings and an exclusive Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week magma red C320 Sports Coupe. Both Lindvall and Cummings will attend the media briefing held in Bryant Park on Friday, Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m.

"Only about one-third of American women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women," said NHLBI Director Claude Lenfant, M.D. "It is vitally important for women to take heart disease seriously, know their risk, and act to protect their heart health. This important partnership with Mercedes-Benz USA and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week allows us to reach millions of women with information that can help them live longer, healthier lives."

In focus group testing, the Red Dress was found to be a memorable icon that resonated with women across the country. And, the testing also revealed that the Red Dress and the accompanying "heart disease doesn't care what you wear" message captures women's attention and makes women think about their own personal risk of heart disease.

The fashion industry's support provides a powerful platform for NHLBI to issue this heart health 'wake-up call' to millions of women. "This partnership with NHLBI is about helping women take action to take care of their heart health. If women aren't doing that, then it isn't going to matter what color their dress is," said Fern Mallis, executive director, 7th on Sixth. "We want all women to be taking care of what's on the inside — their hearts — so we can help them look their best on the outside," added Mallis.

The 19 designers participating in The Red Dress Project are:

Bill Blass
Chaiken (Jeff Mahshie)
Diane von Furstenberg
Carolina Herrera
Tommy Hilfiger
Marc Jacobs
Donna Karan
Anne Klein
Calvin Klein
Michael Kors
Ralph Lauren
Luca Luca
Catherine Malandrino
Nicole Miller
Badgley Mischka
Oscar de la Renta
Vivienne Tam
Carmen Marc Valvo
Vera Wang

Heart disease risk factors include those that are beyond women's control and those that can be changed. Those that can't be changed are a family history of early heart disease and age. The risk factors that can be controlled are smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity and diabetes. While having even one risk factor is dangerous, having multiple risk factors is especially serious, because risk factors tend to "gang up" and worsen each other's effects.

"The good news is that heart disease is preventable," notes Susan Bennett, M.D., cardiologist and medical advisor to The Heart Truth campaign. "Family history can't be changed, but there are definite steps women can take to lower their risk. Heart disease shouldn't be killing one in three of us."

Research shows that women are more worried about cancer than heart disease — especially breast cancer. According to a survey commissioned by the National Council on the Aging, only 9 percent of women ages 45 to 64 name heart disease as the condition they most fear — while 61 percent name breast cancer. Yet, heart disease, which includes coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, angina, and other conditions, is the leading cause of death in American women, accounting for 366,000 deaths in 2000.

NHLBI, part of HHS' National Institutes of Health, has taken a lead role in recruiting partners to help raise the awareness of American women about the threat of heart disease. In addition to the fashion industry, NHLBI has formed partnerships with the American Heart Association, HHS' Office on Women's Health, WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease and other organizations committed to advancing the women's heart health movement.

In addition to the Red Dress Project, The Heart Truth campaign includes women-targeted consumer television, radio and print public service advertisements (PSAs), which use hard-hitting visuals and testimonials to deliver a wake-up call and help women focus on both their "outer" and "inner" selves. The PSAs are supplemented with consumer materials including a brochure on heart disease (available through 1-800-575-WELL); The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women, a comprehensive guide for women on detecting and controlling heart disease risk factors; a speaker's kit to assist community leaders and interested consumers in spreading the word about heart disease to women at the local level; and Web pages on NHLBI's Web Site: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/.

Additional information on The Heart Truth campaign and related topics, can be found at the following Web sites: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/hearttruth; www.americanheart.org/simplesolutions; http://www.4woman.gov/ and www.womenheart.org.

Press releases, fact sheets and other HHS press materials are available at: http://www.hhs.gov.