University of Louisville professor thinks trees could help improve region’s health

Blame for Louisville’s high incidence of heart disease has long been attributed to a population that has unhealthy eating habits, a high rate of smoking, and an overall lack of exercise. In some circles, the city’s reputation has earned it an unwelcome nickname — Coronary Valley.

Dr. Aruni Bhatnager

But a new idea called “The Green Heart Program” seeks to determine if the simple presence of trees and more green spaces can improve overall health and lower the region’s rate of heart disease.

“We are testing the idea that if you increase green spaces in an urban community, you will see improvements in health,” Dr. Aruni Bhatnager, a University of Louisville professor of medicine who is leading the study, said in a Passport-sponsored article on Insider Louisville.

Dr. Bhatnager said the study will enroll 700 people living in south Louisville neighborhoods and measure their risk for heart disease. The project will then plant nearly 10,000 large mature trees in those areas, then go back later to see if the presence of green affects the health of the community.

To hear more from Dr. Bhatnager, please click here. To learn more about the Green Heart project, please click here.

Go Red for Women helps increase awareness and education year-round about importance of heart health

Go Red for Women LogoGoing Red, as defined by the American Heart Association (AHA), may be the best thing a woman can do for her health.

The AHA began its Go Red for Women initiative in 2003 to bring awareness to the fact that heart disease is the number one killer of women, according to a Passport-sponsored article on Insider Louisville. That amounts to 1 in 3 women who die, which is more than all cancer deaths combined, according to the AHA.

Go Red for Women is “a passionate, emotional, social initiative designed to empower women to take charge of their heart health,” according to the website. More than a million women nationally have committed to Go Red.

“My goal is to make it not only a February thing, but we should make it 365 days a year. Everybody should be thinking about heart health,” said Jill Bell, vice president of Passport Health Plan and chair of the 2017 Go Red for Women Luncheon in Louisville, which will be held on Friday, May 19. For more information about the event, please click here. Or to see a video about what Go Red for Women means to two Louisville women, please click here.

It’s time to ‘Go Red for Women’ and fight heart disease

Insider Louisville LogoLet’s start with some good news: The fight against heart disease, the number one killer of women, is producing positive results.

Since 2004, when the national Go Red for Women organization began educating women about risk factors, 34 percent fewer women are dying of heart disease. That’s 300 women per day.

Jane Merman, Kentucky’s Go Red for Women Director, has seen the improvement during 14 years in her position.

“For many years it was thought of as a man’s disease,” Merman says in a Passport-sponsored article on Insider Louisville. “But more women actually die of heart disease than men and have since 1984. The good news is that 80 percent of the time, it can be prevented if we make the right choices when it comes to our lifestyle. We can’t control family history and our age, but we can control how we live our lives and we can know our numbers, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels.

“If things are not right, we can do something about it, either through lifestyle or with medication.”

Go Red for Women, a part of the American Heart Association, organizes four major annual events — Wear Red Day on Feb. 3, the annual Heart Ball in February, a luncheon in May, and a walk in September. Kicking off the campaign with the annual Wear Red Day, the organization hopes seeing so many people wearing red will help spark conversations and action to change unhealthy lifestyles.

For more information, including a special video all about the Go Red for Women movement in Kentucky, please click here.


Overall U.S. death rate declines after seeing rare rise in 2015

CDC imageThe overall U.S. mortality rate declined in the first quarter of this year, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The news came as a relief to researchers who had been taken aback by a rise in the nation’s death rate in 2015, an event that has happened only a few times in the past 25 years. Researchers believed the increase was due in part by a rise in fatal drug overdoses, which have been on the upswing since the 1990s.

“This is good news, given that there was an increase in mortality in 2015,” Andrew Fenelon, assistant professor of health administration at the University of Maryland, said in a New York Times article. “Maybe the 2015 increase was a quick blip, and the trend of decline will continue.”

The mortality rate — a measure of deaths per 100,000 people — is a key indicator of the health of the nation. It almost always declines, driven by improvements in medical care and healthier living through diet and exercise.

The data showed decreases for a number of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, and others. The data is based on all death records received by the center as of June 19 and could still change.

CDC lists top 10 U.S. public health issues

CDC imageThe U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has updated its Prevention Status Reports, which ranks the biggest U.S. public health issues.

The Prevention Status Reports organize information on state public health policies and practices in a format that is easy to use for public health professionals, community leaders, and policy makers. The reports allow these individuals to understand their state’s status and identify improvement areas.

According to the reports, the 10 most important public health problems and concerns are (listed alphabetically):

  • Alcohol-related harms
  • Food safety
  • Healthcare-associated infections
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • HIV
  • Motor vehicle injury
  • Nutrition, physician activity and obesity
  • Prescription drug overdose
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Tobacco use

The Prevention Status Reports website also features an interactive map, tables summarizing state data and fact sheets. To learn more, click here.


American Heart Association creates online community for patients and caregivers to come together and share stories

Insider Louisville LogoTo help remind people that they are not alone, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently started a free online community for patients and caregivers to come together and talk with other people who are going through similar situations.

Once someone has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as heart disease, it’s natural for them to experience a wide range of emotions, including loneliness. That’s why the AHA created the Patient Support Network (online at so that patients and their family members can share stories about their experiences.

“The Patient Support Network is a community of survivors and family members who can share experiences, give and receive emotional support and have their questions answered,” Matt Rountree, of the AHA’s local chapter, said in a Passport-sponsored article on Insider Louisville. “Connecting with others who are either a survivor, or are caring for a survivor of heart disease or stroke, is an important next step to emotional recovery. We want others to know they are not alone in their journey.”

To learn more about the AHA and this Patient Support Network, please click here.


Exercise, even small amounts, can help improve heart health

women exercisingOne of the most important things that people can do to keep their hearts healthy is to get regular exercise.

According to experts from the American College of Cardiology’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council, even small amounts of exercise – including standing – can reduce the risk of heart disease. And greater reductions in risk can be achieved with more exercise.

However, only half of American adults get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week, according to the report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“The greatest benefit is to simply exercise, regardless of the intensity,” Dr. Valentin Fuster, editor-in-chief of the journal, said in a news release.

The report also reviewed recent studies that have suggested that excessive aerobic exercise may harm the heart. While that possibility warrants further investigation, current research shows that even for people with extremely high levels of training, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks.

“The public media has embraced the idea that exercise may harm the heart and disseminated this message, thereby diverting attention away from the benefits of exercise as a potent intervention for the primary and secondary prevention of heart disease,” said Dr. Michael Scott Emery, co-chair of the Sports and Exercise Cardiology Council.

To see a guide to physical activity from The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, please click here.


Go Red For Women Luncheon aims to raise awareness about heart disease and create a call to action

Go Red for Women LogoHeart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the U.S.

While both men and women can experience chest pressure that many say feels like an elephant sitting on the chest, women often have symptoms that they don’t connect to heart disease, such as extreme fatigue, irregular back discomfort, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness, jaw pain, shortness of breath and nausea, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are all risk factors for heart disease. In addition, certain lifestyle factors can put people at risk, such as an unhealthy diet that is high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium; physical inactivity; obesity; too much alcohol (more than one drink a day for women, more than two for men); and tobacco use.

Passport is proud to be a co-sponsor of the 2015 Lexington Go Red For Women Luncheon. The event will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Lexington Center’s Heritage Hall, 400 W. Vine St. Tickets are $100 each or $1,000 for a table of 10. For more information, please go online to or click here.

The Go Red for Women effort focuses on three areas: heightening awareness of the issue, creating a passionate call to action, and generating funds to support education and research. For more information, check out the AHA website at


American Heart Association Works to Fight Heart Disease

Insider Louisville LogoFor 90 years, heart disease has been the No. 1 killer of Americans, with cancer a distant second.

But the American Heart Association (AHA) believes it is close to changing that ranking, thanks to its ongoing commitment to encourage people to stop smoking, get exercise and eat a healthy diet.

“The AHA has been working toward this goal for the last 90 years and we are very close to seeing it be accomplished,” said Matt Rountree, Senior Director of Communications and Marketing for the Kentucky and Southern Ohio chapter of the AHA.

To learn more about what Passport and the AHA are doing to fight heart disease, check out this Passport-sponsored Insider Louisville article.


Kentucky Has the 12th Highest Adult Obesity Rate in the U.S., New Report Shows

Kentucky now has the 12th highest adult obesity rate in the nation at 31.6 percent, according to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” a report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Across the country, rates increased in five states (Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Utah) and remained stable in the rest.

Rates of obesity are above 35 percent for the first time ever in three states (Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi), at or above 30 percent in 22 states, and are not below 21 percent in any. Arkansas had the highest rate of obesity at 35.9 percent, while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent. In 1980, no state had a rate above 15 percent, and in 1991, no state had a rate above 20.

“The State of Obesity”  finds that significant geographic, income, racial and ethnic disparities persist, with obesity rates highest in the South and among Blacks, Latinos and lower-income, less-educated Americans. Obesity puts some 78 million Americans at an increased risk for a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

“Efforts to prevent and reduce obesity over the past decade have made a difference. Stabilizing rates is an accomplishment. However, given the continued high rates, it isn’t time to celebrate,” Jeffrey Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH, said in a release. “We’ve learned that if we invest in effective programs, we can see signs of progress. But, we still haven’t invested enough to really tip the scales yet.”

To help Kentuckians prevent obesity and get healthier, the Commonwealth and the Partnership for a Fit Kentucky have produced an online guide  filled with statistics, tips, and policies that can help improve the overall health of Kentucky and its residents.