Does popular culture affect people’s healthcare choices?


This morning, when I learned John Hughes died I took a big deep breath. He made the movies of my teenage years … you know them all. When I learned he had a heart attack at a very young age, I immediately thought of Tim Russert who also lost his life to heart disease far too early.

Right before Tim Russert died, we were preparing to launch a calcium scoring marketing campaign for a client. I had been tut-tutting that the out-of-pocket cost for something that’s not covered by insurance was just too high and the timing was off. This was when the US economy was just starting to falter.

Well, the campaign launched and one day later Tim Russert died. Was the campaign affected? I don’t really know. Here’s what I do know. I was wrong. The campaign was very successful. The hospital began scheduling calcium scoring tests immediately and was soon booked up for weeks.

For Generation X-ers like me, I wonder if John Hughes’ early death will have a similar effect. There’s no doubt many of us think we are young and infallible. But when it comes to heart disease, your family history and personal choices deeply affect your cardiovascular health.

I can remember interviewing a prominent local cardiologist awhile back and he told me that when he was in college, he studied a 20-something athlete that was in prime shape and health, but had a family history of heart disease. He had a heart attack and died in his 20’s.

So to those Gen-Xers out there that are fondly remembering the Duck-man, Jake Ryan, Blaine, the preps, the richies and the Brat Pack, don’t you forget to take care of your heart!!

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2 Responses to “Does popular culture affect people’s healthcare choices?”

  1. Carolyn Thomas Says:

    Excellent points here.

    As a heart attack survivor, I was invited to attend the 2008 ‘WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease’ at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota last fall.

    The youngest of our Symposium attendees, all heart attack survivors, was 31 years old. We had women of every age, size, shape, ethnic and racial background represented. One of our group was a physician, another was a triathlete. All shared one characteristic: every one of us was shocked and surprised when heart disease hit. Yes, even the ones who were smokers, diabetics, overweight, chronically stressed, had a family history of heart disease and a host of other known cardiac risk factors!

    Heart disease is an equal opportunity health threat. For example, we know that heart disease is 20-30 years in the making. This means YOU, Gen-Xers, are creating your own heart attacks right now with your lifestyle choices.

    For example, research has linked some cardiac risk factors – particularly smoking while taking birth control pills – with increased heart disease mortality rates. And who smokes and takes birth control pills? YOUNG women, the fastest-growing group of new smokers. These women are heart attacks waiting to happen, no matter how much they work out at the gym, or do yoga, or eat those heart-smart foods like almonds and oatmeal.

    When celebrities die of heart disease, we see a flurry of publicity about cardiac risk factors, but does news about the John Hughes’ or the Tim Russerts of the world actually do anything to motivate Gen-Xers to address their own cardiac risk factors? As you say, most young people live in a ‘could never happen to me’ fog of denial, even as smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other known cardiac risk factors are on the increase.

    After Russert’s death, the New York Times reminded us that his heart attack should not have been much of a surprise to anybody: “On the negative side, Mr. Russert had low HDL, the protective cholesterol, and high triglycerides. He was quite overweight; a waist more than 40 inches in men increases heart risk. A CT scan of his coronary arteries in 1998 gave a calcium score of 210, indicating artery disease — healthy arteries do not have calcium deposits — and a moderate to high risk of a heart attack. An echocardiogram in April found that the main heart pumping chamber had thickened, his ability to exercise had decreased, and his blood pressure had increased.”

    We know that 80% of heart disease is preventable! Ironic then, that heart disease is our #1 killer. For women, it’s even worse. Heart disease kills more women than men each year in North America. Heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer does – in fact, heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer combined.

    Heart disease starts young – researchers have found fatty cholesterol streaks in the blood vessels of adolescents! It’s never too early to get serious about your cardiac risk factors.

    Carolyn Thomas

    • Julie Turner Says:

      Thanks for reading our blog and taking the time to comment, Carolyn. As a survivor you add a unique and powerful voice to the conversation about heart disease.

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