The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has inaccurately branded menopause as a killer of women. I will not be sending them a donation.
Last October, the foundation launched a fundraising campaign called Make Death Wait. Magazine and TV ads personify death as a man with a disembodied voice (he sounds like a stalker) who says he loves women (and men) and is coming to get them.
Eileen Melnick McCarthy, director of communications for the foundation, wrote to me in an email that the intent of the campaign is to “wake up Canadians to the threat of heart disease and stroke.” The campaign – urging viewers to “make death wait” by making a donation – has drawn both support and criticism.
I think the TV ads are creepy, but what disturbed me more was the Death Loves Menopause message in the December issue of Chatelaine, Canada’s oldest women’s magazine. The small print reads: “He loves that menopause makes women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.” But is this statement defendable?
Dr. Jerilynn Prior, endocrinologist and scientific director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research, wrote in an article about women’s risk for cardiovascular disease that the assumption heart disease in women is caused by estrogen deficiency associated with menopause is a myth:
The reasoning behind this notion goes like this—young women have lots of estrogen and don’t get heart attacks. Older menopausal women are “estrogen deficient” and get heart attacks. Therefore, lack of estrogen causes women’s heart disease. That is like saying that headache is an aspirin-deficiency disease!
It is true that heart disease and stroke is the #1 killer of women, but the ad’s assertion that it is menopause that makes women more vulnerable raised the ire of women’s health experts I asked for comment.
Joan Starker, a PhD clinical social worker specializing in midlife, menopause, and aging issues, called it “an appalling and shocking advertisement.” Starker says she and her colleagues have “worked hard to shatter negative conceptualizations of menopause and aging. When I viewed this ad, I was left with only one horrifyingly toxic message – menopause equals death – which is ageist and sexist.”
Barbara Mintzes, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, calls the ad “misleading and inaccurate” and says “there is no sudden shift in the rate of heart disease post- versus pre-menopause (or around age 50), as would be expected if menopause was a major risk factor for heart disease. As women age our risks of heart disease gradually increase, similarly to ageing in men.”
My fellow blogger, Paula Derry, is a PhD health psychologist who critiques, analyzes, and theorizes about menstruation research/theory, with menopause being one of her specialties. “The idea that women’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause is a common one, yet there is little evidence for any increase in risk, much less that menopause is a key cause of heart disease and death,” she says.
Derry cites a 2011 paper in the British Medical Journal – Ageing, menopause, and ischaemic heart disease mortality in England, Wales, and the United States – that concluded aging rather than menopause was key: “Heart disease mortality in women increased exponentially throughout all ages, with no special step increase at menopausal ages.”
Last March, the American Heart Association issued the Effectiveness-based Guidelines for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women—2011 Update. These guidelines present a long list of risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes. Menopause is not included as a risk factor and is mentioned in just one sentence in the document.
As Derry says, “If I were going to donate money to an organization it would not be to one that tried to scare me with what I understand to be inaccurate facts.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada should “wake up” to the truth about heart disease and menopause.