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Women and heart disease: The Heart Truth

Heart&Stroke Foundation The Heart TruthThe Heart Truth is a national bilingual public health campaign created to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke among women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The aim of The Heart Truth is to encourage women to become engaged in their heart health by teaching them how to reduce their risk factors through diet, physical activity and other strategies. It is based on a successful and effective, evidence-based program that was fully funded by the U.S. government through the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. In fact, this program improved heart disease health risk awareness among U.S. women from 34% in 2000 to 56% in 2006.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation launched this campaign across Canada in 2008 because the face of heart disease in Canada was changing, becoming younger, increasingly female and ethnically diverse. It consists of:  

  • compelling photos and stories of real women’s struggles with heart disease and stroke
  • educational materials
  • a website with tips for improving one’s heart health
  • community interaction kits
  • national public service advertisements in print, radio and TV and extensive media coverage

A key component of The Heart Truth is the Red Dress Fashion Show, which typically takes place during Fashion Week in March. The iconic Red Dress symbol is designed to engage women of all ages, sizes, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic status in the campaign.

The Heart Truth campaign is lead by a Leadership Council of 18 prominent Canadian women who provide advice on the direction of the program. This council includes renowned women such as Olympic athlete Diane Jones Konihowski, TV broadcaster Vicki Gabereau and many others.

The Heart Truth has been actively and financially supported by leading Canadian corporations from various sectors. Financial and other support for this campaign represents a tremendous opportunity for the federal government.


  • Heart disease and stroke is a leading cause of death among women in Canada. More women than men die from heart disease and stroke.
  • More women died from heart disease and stroke in 2008 than men.
  • Only 13% of Canadian women identify heart disease as the greatest health problem for women. It is because of this lack of awareness that The Heart Truth campaign is so critical.
  • Heart disease and stroke kills seven times as many women as breast cancer. Yet 37% of Canadian women perceive breast cancer to be the greatest health problem, compared to 13% for heart disease.
  • Women often fail to make the connection between risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and their own chance of developing heart disease.
  • The health system often under treats women for heart disease, which is still perceived to be a man’s disease. For example, after a heart attack, women are less likely to be admitted to intensive care settings, cardiac rehabilitation programs or to receive interventions such as bypass surgery.
  • Certain ethnic groups, such as South Asians and members of First Nations communities, are particularly vulnerable to heart disease.
    • South Asian Canadians are more likely to die from a heart attack earlier than the general population, even when they appear to be at a healthy weight.
    • First Nations members are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to develop heart disease than the general Canadian population. They are also more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease.

Last reviewed: April 2010