AHA guide helps communities tackle heart disease

The American Heart Association (AHA) released a guide to help policy makers and providers whittle away at the problems of heart disease and stroke at a community level. The 25-page guide was published online March 21 in Circulation.

The 2013 update incorporates evidence-based goals, strategies and recommendations for community-based public health and focuses on modifiable behaviors, awareness of risk factors, community settings and interventions. It offers programs that illustrate best practices designed to meet the AHA’s goals to improve Americans’ cardiovascular health by 20 percent while reducing cardiovascular disease-related mortality and stroke by 20 percent.

“This guide has the unique opportunity to build upon, to develop synergies with, and to further advance the multiple interventions and policy changes occurring over the past decade,” wrote Thomas A. Pearson, MD, MPH, PhD, director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y., and colleagues. They presented the guide on behalf of the AHA Council on Epidemiology and Prevention.

The previous guide was released in 2003. Since then, numerous programs have been developed to optimize cardiovascular health. The updated guide includes new goals that are informed by current knowledge about the impact of obesity, salt intake and air pollution on cardiovascular health and examples of interventions.

“A major addition has been the listing of current programs that illustrate best practices at the national, regional, or local levels, including recommendations, methods, and tools to support strategic implementation to attain the goals of each of the community intervention opportunities,” the authors wrote. “The model programs cited here recognize recent growth in community-based cardiovascular health promotion programs and emphasize the sizable and growing experience that might be tapped by organizations that plan to initiate new programs in their communities. Equally important, the experience of new programs brings valuable information on contextual factors influencing programmatic outcomes, including target population factors, characteristics of the sponsoring organizations, and the wide range of intervention strategies.”

The authors acknowledged that inequities in care, gaps in knowledge and limited resources present challenges. Implementing evidence-based solutions in the guide may help overcome those challenges, they proposed, emphasizing that a prevention strategy may obviate the need for treatment in the future.