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Heart Disease is an Investor Issue: Invest in a Heart Healthy America
2 / 8 / 2019
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While you read this article, someone is having a heart attack: they occur every 40 seconds in the U.S. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in both men and women, responsible for 1 in 3 deaths in America. Coronary artery disease affects everyone, whether that’s through their own health or that of their loved ones.

Heart disease is caused or exacerbated by societal challenges like obesity, smoking and excessive alcohol use. These problems tie back to companies producing products such as soda, alcohol, processed food, and tobacco. The impact of these industries extends well beyond heart health. For example, the low availability of heart-healthy foods in certain areas disproportionately impacts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. While much has been made of food deserts — spaces where access to healthy foods is difficult — and how they are more prevalent in vulnerable communities, researchers have more recently suggested that food swamps, where cheap, unhealthy food choices abound, are more closely correlated to obesity rates.

Moreover, makers of unhealthy substances have been long known to target low-income and other vulnerable populations. Fast and packaged food companies spend disproportionately to target Black Americans, a recent University of Connecticut study found. While TV ads by food companies fell 4% over a five-year period, marketing aimed at African Americans rose more than 50%. “Black teenagers saw more than twice as many ads for unhealthy foods compared to white teens in 2017,” according to Bloomberg, adding “PepsiCo Inc.’s spending on TV commercials targeting Black shoppers rose by 37 percent, while Taco Bell-owner Yum! Brands Inc.’s rose 31 percent.”

To compound the problem, socioeconomic status also impacts the outcome of death rates after a heart attack; mortality rates tripled for people who were uneducated, unemployed, or living in a low-income area. Black patients are less likely than white patients to receive the standard of care both before and after having a heart attack, placing them at higher risk for another heart attack, another hospitalization, and death. Some of those disparities in care and outcomes have narrowed, but inequalities persist between how ill Black and white patients are after a heart attack, and how many die.

The public isn’t helpless in the face of these issues. Many companies whose products contribute to coronary heart disease are publicly held. That means investors have an opportunity to help fight this widespread issue. It’s important they know they have the power — and the responsibility —  to help build a healthier world.

Investors can leverage their power by investing in companies producing heart-healthy foods, as well as those designing medicines, gear and devices to improve heart health. They can divest from the unhealthy food and products that exacerbate heart problems. And they can engage these companies as shareholders to push them towards more responsible behavior.

OpenInvest’s new heart-healthy cause fights heart disease on all fronts. With it, investors fund companies developing cutting-edge cardiology medicines and devices, such as pacemakers and stents, as well as corporations that promote healthy living and exercise, like sports gear and resorts. So for example, philanthropists who invest in health initiatives such as bringing sports and exercise programs to schools can also invest in exercise equipment companies. Meanwhile, the cause lets investors divest from those who sell substances that negatively impact coronary heart health, such as cigarettes, liquor, or soda, so that health- and equity-focused foundations can bring their endowments into alignment with their missions. Plus, OpenInvest helps investors vote their proxies, so they can weigh in with the companies whose shares they own.

By investing in heart health, individuals committed to better fitness and well-being for the population at large, such as medical professionals, athletes, and educators, can put their investment assets to work in service of a greater cause.

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