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Former CDC Director Takes Steps to Eradicate Heart Disease

Former CDC Director Takes Steps to Eradicate Heart Disease

Dr. Tom Frieden has set his sights on a condition that kills 10 million people a year.

For eight years, during the Obama administration, Dr. Tom Frieden, MD, was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During his tenure, which ended in 2017, he was at the forefront of the battle to contain global threats, from the Ebola epidemic to the H1N1 flu pandemic.

Dr. Frieden’s passion for improving public health didn’t begin with the CDC. Before his appointment to the CDC he was Commissioner of Health for New York City; in that role, he spearheaded an anti-tobacco effort that cut the city’s smoking rate by a third.

Frieden’s next act is dramatically wider in scope: He’s recently created Resolve, a new global-health initiative that will change the health and lifespan of billions of people worldwide. The organization’s focus is two-fold: First, to reduce and prevent heart disease and stroke, and second, to increase preparedness to fight epidemics worldwide. The organization’s funding of $225 million over five years comes from donations from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Why the focus on heart disease? In an interview with NPR, Frieden said that during his time at the CDC, he asked what he could do to save the most lives. The answer? In addition to epidemic preparedness, cardiovascular disease prevention. “Stroke and heart disease kill 10 million people a year,” he said. “Currently only 14 percent of people in the world have [cardiovascular disease] under control.” His goal is to get that number up to 50 percent. But how?

Frieden’s approach, which will involve working in partnership with governments and organizations, is to reduce sodium consumption, control blood pressure and eliminate trans fats from foods.

 A major risk of heart disease is high blood pressure—and one food ingredient that can elevate blood pressure to dangerously high levels is sodium. Trans fats, Frieden says, are an artificially produced toxic chemical that increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.

Frieden says that education is part of the effort to reduce salt consumption—and that means encouraging people to slowly cut back on salt when preparing their own meals. But getting food manufacturers and restaurants on board to use less sodium is equally, if not more, important. The goal, Frieden says, is a 30 percent reduction in sodium. Frieden also plans to put into place protocols using medicine around the world for controlling high blood pressure.

Where trans fats are concerned, “You have to convince governments to step in,” he says.

With financial backing in place, along with Frieden’s experience and depth of knowledge, Resolve’s mission can take the world’s population a gigantic step forward in reducing a preventable disease.

What’s one thing you can do to improve your heart health, starting now? Follow the Ornish Reversal Program—Dr. Dean Ornish’s science-backed way to reverse heart disease.

Medically reviewed in November 2019.

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