Rita Moreno

Article #2:

A Heartfelt Message

Rita Moreno’s Lifesaving Mission Is Preventing Heart Disease and Diabetes

Rita Moreno first captured the heart of America in 1961 when she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story. More than 50 years later, she’s still going strong, starring in the third season of the television series Happily Divorced. Rita is one of only a handful of performers who have won all four of the most prestigious awards in show business: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. And in 2004, Rita was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to an American civilian, for her lifetime of service. MyHealth recently spoke with the award-winning singer and actress about her passion to help prevent heart disease and diabetes.

What motivated you to become involved in the fight against heart disease and diabetes?

I guess you could say it’s personal. I lost both my mother and my sister-in-law from complications related to type 2 diabetes. My late husband suffered a heart attack early in life, and several of my family members have battled high cholesterol. I wanted to do what I could to help prevent these diseases.

So you teamed up with the American Heart Association?

Yes. I served as a spokesperson for their program The Heart of Diabetes: Understanding Insulin Resistance. Heart disease and stroke are the #1 causes of death in people with type 2 diabetes. Yet many people who have type 2 diabetes are not aware that they have a much higher risk of developing heart disease. Being from Puerto Rico, I especially wanted to reach out to Latinos and Hispanics, who are twice as likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes.

You’ve also been involved in helping women understand the risk of heart disease.

That’s right. I participated in The Heart Truth campaign that was launched in 2002 and introduced the red dress as a national symbol for heart disease awareness among women. It’s been very successful. In 2000, only 34 percent of women knew the risks of heart disease. In just a few years, that number increased to 62 percent. Even though we’ve made great progress in increasing awareness among women, we still have a lot of work to do.

What do women need to know about heart disease?

They need to know that heart disease is not just a man’s problem. One in four women will die of heart disease. It’s the #1 cause of death in women. More than 80 percent of women ages 40 to 60 have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Women share several of these risk factors with men, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight. But there are also a number of other factors that play a major role in the development of heart disease in women, for example, smoking, mental stress and depression and low levels of estrogen after menopause.

So what can people do to stay heart healthy?

First, see your doctor at least once a year to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. And talk to your doctor about your risk for diabetes. Second, get off the couch and start exercising 30 minutes a day. Third, start a heart-healthy diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Stay away from fried foods. Cut down on fat and salt. When I was growing up, my mother used to saut√© mushrooms in fat. They were delicious, but now we know that wasn’t exactly a healthy way to eat. Now I use olive and canola oils when I’m cooking. To prevent heart disease, it all comes down to educating ourselves so we can make smart choices.