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Clinicians urged to help patients improve diet, exercise and healthy behaviors

Ockene plays key role in new advisory from American Heart Association

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

October 10, 2013
   Judith K. Ockene, PhD, MEd, MA

In a bold call to action, the American Heart Association is urging health care providers to proactively address the behaviors associated with poor cardiovascular health.


Clinicians must play a larger role in helping patients to reduce unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, poor diet and too little physical activity, in addition to treating high cholesterol and hypertension, according to the Oct. 7 advisory published online in the journal Circulation.

Judith K. Ockene, PhD, MEd, MA, the Barbara Helen Smith Chair in Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Preventive & Behavioral Medicine, played a key role in the advisory.Dr. Ockene is co-chair of the American Heart Association’s Science Advisory Writing Committee.

“By responding to this call to action, we can improve the cardiovascular health of our nation,” said Ockene.

Medical treatments for cardiovascular risk biomarkers and diseases have already helped clinicians play a major role in reducing heart disease, stroke and risk. The American Heart Association is now focusing on behavioral health in order to meet the new goals of improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent.

Success will be defined by seven measures of cardiovascular health: tobacco use, diet quality, physical activity level, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and fasting blood glucose—all of which can be improved with positive lifestyle changes.

“Healthy lifestyle behaviors are required for healthy individuals and healthy communities. This can come about by implementing strategies with both individual patients and entire communities,” Ockene said.

With costs related to cardiovascular disease projected to triple from their 2010 level by 2030, the call to action is driven by economics as well as altruism.

“To avoid bankrupting the health care system, we must improve the distribution of cardiovascular health levels across the population by preserving cardiovascular health from childhood and by treating health risk behaviors to help more individuals improve their cardiovascular health into older ages,” wrote Ockene and co-authors.