Weekly Column

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Last month, we crossed a grim milestone. COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in the United States during the month of January, the first time that has happened since the pandemic began last March. But another, less visible killer has been with us much longer than the coronavirus.

Since at least the 1950s, heart disease has led to more American deaths than any other single cause. About 850,000 people die from heart disease in the U.S. each year, which means that it causes one in four deaths and takes an American life every 36 seconds. And heart disease doesn’t discriminate: It’s the leading cause of death among people of nearly every ethnic group.

Although we sometimes think of heart disease as typically affecting men, it kills women at nearly the same rate. It’s the top cause of death for Americans of both genders. And sadly, it’s deadlier to women than every type of cancer combined.

It hasn’t always been this lethal, and it doesn’t have to be in the future. The good news is that heart disease is preventable.

This is why I recently joined Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to introduce a Senate resolution that designates February 2021 as “American Heart Month.” Our bipartisan effort affirms the Senate’s commitment to fighting cardiovascular disease, and we hope it will help raise awareness about this silent killer. I also hope that it will remind each of us that there are proven ways to fight back.

Ways to do so are through healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, and refraining from smoking. Countless studies have shown that eating fresh fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to keep your heart healthy.

Our resolution highlights that although heart disease affects men and women about equally, it does hit some groups harder than others. Education level, household income, access to quality health care, and where you live all impact your chances of dying from heart disease.

I have been one of the lead sponsors of this resolution every year since 2015, when Congress first named February American Heart Month. I have done this each February because this disease affects all of us.

This year’s resolution is especially important to me. Nearly 5,000 Nebraskans die each year from heart disease, and COVID-19 can be much more severe for people who suffer from this illness. Until we beat this pandemic, please remember that all of us can take steps to fight both heart disease and the coronavirus. Focus on healthier living practices and stay safe.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.