FRIDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Actress Hilary Duff wearing Donna Karan, soap queen Susan Lucci wowing the crowd in Gustavo Cadile, skater Kristi Yamaguchi showing Olympic style in Vera Wang, and CBS anchor Katie Couric bringing the show to a close in Carmen Marc Valvo -- all of these stars, and more, proudly wore red on the runway Friday for the 7th annual Red Dress Collection, aimed at raising awareness of women's heart health.
As kick-off for New York City's Fashion Week, the show is a yearly highlight of The Heart Truth campaign, sponsored by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to help raise awareness of the nation's leading killer of women. Since its inception in 2002, the Red Dress has become the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness.
The celebrities and designers showcased on the Bryant Park catwalk hope to "tell all of us that being healthy never, ever goes out of style," said this year's host, Tim Gunn, star of Bravo's Project Runway and Tim Gunn's Guide to Style. "In their own manner of speaking, they take 'make it work,' and they take it to heart," he added.
The event is meant to inspire all women -- the young and those a little older. Twenty-two-year-old film star Amanda Bynes strutted, in Daniel Swarovski. But so did 57-year-old "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter, in Carolina Herrera. And, to great applause, ever-young actress Cicely Tyson, 75, resplendent in B. Michael.
One Red Dress Collection regular, supermodel and Project Runway host Heidi Klum, applauded the campaign's effectiveness in getting the word out to women. "Since 'The Heart Truth' campaign was launched, awareness has increased by 23 percent. I want to see that number rising," she told HealthDay. Working with event co-sponsor Diet Coke, Klum said she "reached a lot of people last year, and this year my goal is to reach even more women so they get tested and stay healthy."
But much more work needs to be done, added NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel.
"One in four women in the United States dies of heart disease, so heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined," the cardiologist said. Added to that, "we are seeing increasing rates of obesity, particularly in younger women," Nabel warned. "This indicates that there could be a greater prevalence of heart disease in later years."
Given all this, why are American women less likely than men to view heart disease as "their" problem?
According to Nabel, until the 1990s, studies on cardiovascular ills were mostly focused on men. Medical schools -- including the one she attended -- taught that heart trouble was primarily a male concern, striking women only much later in life. But as more women entered clinical trials, "we started learning that, indeed, women were developing heart disease at ages equivalent to men," Nabel said.
For too long, women also thought of themselves as caregivers first, the cared-for second. "I was taught that heart disease was a man's disease, and a woman's role is to take care of her man," Nabel said. "But I think that the message in 2009 is that heart disease is a woman's and a man's disease. And the job of the man is also to take care of the woman."
Efforts such as "The Heart Truth" campaign are helping change hearts and minds, she added.
"We know that since the [campaign] began seven years ago, millions of women have learned that heart disease is the No. 1 killer -- a new survey shows that 65 percent of women are aware of this fact," Nabel said. "But about one-third of women still underestimate their own personal risk of getting heart disease, and if you underestimate your risk, this can have serious consequences."
A few simple steps can minimize heart risk factors, helping to prevent "silent killers" such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
"The good news is women have the tremendous power to reduce their risk of getting heart disease," Gunn reminded the crowd. "By doing four things -- eating right, being physically active, not smoking, and having a good body weight -- women can lower their risk of getting heart disease by as much as 82 percent. That's a staggering percentage."
Find out much more about women's heart health at the The Heart Truth.