Public Release: 

Survey on total cardiovascular risk shows significant gap between patient education and action

Americans inflate report card for heart disease prevention

Edelman Public Relations

November 10, 2003 - A nationwide survey released today suggests that American adults are overly optimistic about their risk of heart disease and give themselves an inflated "report card" for their current personal risk profile and prevention efforts. A Harris Interactive® survey of more than 2,000 adults revealed that while most people were aware of the dangers of unhealthy lifestyles and diets and that most believe they are trying to change their ways, other objective measures of American's actual behaviors do not confirm their personal assessment.

The survey, conducted on behalf of The Pfizer Journal®, found that more than half of those surveyed did not think they are at any or much risk of having a heart attack (57%) or a stroke (62%) within the next five years. Only 59% believed that cardiovascular disease was the number one killer. Most people surveyed reported that they were taking steps to reduce their total cardiovascular risks, but there is evidence that the majority of the population is not.

"Despite repeated efforts made by physicians and public health officials to educate Americans about cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other risk factors, the majority still do not believe that are at risk for developing heart disease," said past President of the American Heart Association, Robert Bonow, M.D. "As physicians, we must redouble our efforts to communicate to our patients the personal risks associated with the nation's number one health threat."

Many surveyed adults say they are at little or no risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or diabetes in the next five years and are not at all concerned about cardiovascular conditions.

  • Only one-third (32%) of adults express concerns about angina/coronary heart disease/heart attack
  • One fifth (19%) of adults said that they were at no risk at all of suffering a heart attack in the next five years.
  • An estimated one-half of people over age 20 have high blood pressure, however only 31% of those surveyed had been told they had high cholesterol by a healthcare provider and only 30% of adults expressed any concern about it.

Survey findings indicated that more than half (54%) of all adults think that cancer, not heart disease, is the leading cause of death among cigarette smokers; echoing at least one scientific study that cancer remains the nation's number one health fear. In addition, only half of adults and half (53%) of all women are aware that one in ten women aged 45-64 have some form of heart disease. Also, one quarter (26%) of adults believe that thin people are healthier than overweight people.

This survey was conducted as a result of concerns raised by cardiovascular experts who were recently brought together by The Pfizer Journal® for a roundtable discussion focusing on total cardiovascular risk and prevention in America. Panelists included Dr. Robert Bonow, President of the American Heart Association, Dr. Peter Libby, Chief of the Cardiology Divison at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dr. John Farquhar, Founder of the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, and Nancy Houston Miller, RN, Associate Director of the Stanford Cardiac Rehabilitation Center. The panelists discussed the growing need for prevention of cardiovascular disease, as well as the frustrations they face in reaching the consumer public.

Survey results also indicate that consumers perceive themselves to be healthier than in the aggregate they actually may be. When contrasting these survey results with recent CDC statistics about health habits in America, there is a significant gap between perception and reality:

  • While 64% of Americans have been diagnosed as overweight or obese, 76% of those surveyed claim to be trying to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Only 19% of Americans actually engage in a high level of physical activity, yet 68% of those surveyed said they are "trying" to exercise regularly.
  • Only 10% of Americans have been found to eat a diet consistent with federal nutritional guidelines, yet two thirds of those surveyed say they are trying to avoid fats (65%) and limit sodium intake (61%).

A substantial percent of those surveyed are ignoring "heart-healthy" behaviors - even among populations with three out of three risk factors (hypertension, high cholesterol and family history of heart disease or stroke):

  • 35% of Americans, including 23% of those with three risk factors, do not try to avoid fatty foods.
  • 24% of Americans, including33% of those with three risk factors, do not try to maintain a healthy weight.

"Doctors understand what is good for their patients but are frustrated by the difficulties they face in convincing people to incorporate heart healthy practices into their lives," said Dr. David Bradford, Professor, and Director of the Center for Health Economic and Policy Studies at the Medical University of South Carolina and another of the panelists. "Even today, we continue to see that most people prefer bad behavior and find the short-term pain of a healthy lifestyle is far greater than what they may see as long-term gain."


More information about this panel discussion and the future of cardiovascular health can be found in the most recent issue of The Pfizer Journal® entitled "Heart Disease: An All-Out Attack on Risk," which can be read online at

About The Survey

Harris Interactive conducted the online survey with the U.S. among 2,111 respondents ages 18 and over. The sample was adjusted with both demographic weighting and Harris Interactive's proprietary propensity weighting to ensure representation of the entire U.S. adult population.

About The Pfizer Journal®

Six times a year, The Pfizer Journal® presents facts, opinion, and commentary from a panel of thought leaders on issues concerning health and the future of medical care. With The Pfizer Journal®, Pfizer Inc helps readers gain a deeper understanding of issues related to existing medical treatments, tomorrow's therapies emerging from today's research, and behavioral and environmental issues that influence our health and well-being. The Pfizer Journal® provides its readers with a global forum for insights, ideas, and commentary about health care and biomedical research.

About Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive ( is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll®, and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom and strategic research. The Company conducts international research through wholly owned subsidiaries--London-based HI Europe ( and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan--as well as through the Harris Interactive Global Network of local market- and opinion-research firms, and various U.S. offices. EOE M/F/D/V

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