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A vision for “whole person” health in 2030

A Stanford physician and leader at the American Heart Association explains why the organization's goals for 2030 include more than heart health.

If the American Heart Association is going to best promote health in the United States and around the world, it can't just look at cardiovascular disease, noted Stanford cardiology professor Michael McConnell, MD.

"There's more and more research that recognizes traditional health and well-being are related," said McConnell, a co-chair of the AHA task force that produced its recent policy statement. "It's important to think broadly about the whole person."

Since 2000, the American Heart Association has put out an impact goal policy statement once every 10 years. The statement outlines its goals for the next decade: "It's a north star for the organization," said McConnell, who is featured in this AHA video. The AHA uses this statement to guide its research, quality improvement, advocacy and public health programs over the next decade.

"This time, the AHA is going beyond just cardiovascular," McConnell said. In the 2030 goals, the AHA plans to measure healthy life expectancy -- not just how long people live, but years lived in full health.

In line with the AHA's mission to be a "relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives," the organization has set a goal of raising healthy life expectancy in the United States from 66 to at least 68, and around the world from 64 to at least 67. And the intention is to make those years healthy.

"We need to make healthy choices the easy ones, make health care accessible and affordable and we need to get better at stopping preventable diseases before they start," said Bob Harrington, MD, president of the AHA and chair of Stanford's Department of Medicine, in an AHA statement.

The organization is also focusing on equity -- helping those who have the least both in the U.S. and worldwide. "If you're really going to try to improve the health of a population, the biggest opportunity is to help those who are suffering the most, to focus on closing the gap," McConnell said. "That's where you can have the biggest impact."

The statement also reports on cardiovascular health in the United States: While there has been a 15% reduction in age-adjusted mortality from cardiovascular disease in the last decade, more U.S. residents are obese, and more have diabetes. In addition, children are exercising less -- a worrisome trend, as it will affect their health as adults.

To achieve its goals, the AHA will need some help and plans to work with a variety of partners to create a healthier world, Harrington said.

"The AHA wants to work together as much as possible with all the other health agencies and governments," McConnell said. "It can't do this alone."

"What most people want to see is a world where we don't just live longer but live healthier," he added. "And living healthier can help us live longer."

McConnell is a senior research scientist at Google Health.

Photo by Agung Pandit Wingua

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