Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, the Eileen M. Foell Professor and chair of Preventive Medicine, is the newly elected president of the American Heart Association (AHA).
Lloyd-Jones is the fourth Feinberg faculty to ascend to the helm of the AHA, along with Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc, the Magerstadt Professor and vice dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Robert Bonow, MD, the Max and Lilly Goldberg Distinguished Professor of Cardiology and the late Oglesby Paul, MD.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed deep structural inequities in American health, and those health inequities faced by many Americans remain. Chief among those problems are cardiovascular conditions; heart disease, obesity and diabetes represent an enormous disease burden, a burden that is not shared equally.
“COVID really brought to the fore how communities of color are disproportionately affected by disease — not because of any genetic predisposition, but because of the social determinants of health,” said Lloyd-Jones. “This is a major focus and I’m very excited to help lead Feinberg and the AHA in becoming champions for health equity.”
Feinberg and the AHA have a longstanding partnership in translational science, with Feinberg participating in a nation-leading six AHA-funded Strategically Focused Research Networks (SFRN). The centers study topics including the arc of cardiovascular health from childhood across the life course, cardiovascular disease prevention, health disparities, atrial fibrillation, peripheral vascular disease and sudden cardiac death.
The resources of Northwestern University, Feinberg and the Chicagoland area afford a unique opportunity to study a broad array of research questions, according to Yancy.
“In many ways, Chicago is an epicenter of the U.S.; things that work in Chicago are exportable and should work anywhere else,” said Yancy, who is also chief of Cardiology in the Department of Medicine and a professor of Medical Social Sciences. “This becomes an incredible incubator for the messaging and initiatives of the AHA.”
Inequalities in the delivery of healthcare are present in clinical cardiovascular care, from underfunded hospitals in poor neighborhoods to areas that may not have adequate care capacity at all. Potentially more important, however, are broader social determinants of health: jobs, housing, education and nutrition that greatly impact an individual’s cardiovascular health.
“I think we have many more things to discover at a very basic science level about health and disease,” Lloyd-Jones said. “But I think that we must also transform our approach to improving public health.”
Cardiovascular disease is unlike other chronic non-communicable diseases such as cancer; 80 to 90 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable, according to Lloyd-Jones. The synergistic relationship between the AHA and Feinberg strives to improve cardiovascular health both in the clinic and in the community, with the goal of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease — especially for populations who are disproportionately affected.
“There are really important things we need to do better to implement our knowledge into care settings so that we help our patients prevent and receive better treatment for cardiovascular disease,” Lloyd-Jones said. “Beyond that, we also need to design better public health, better ability to access healthy foods and safe spaces for exercise. All of these things would be transformative and realize a shared aspiration to prevent cardiovascular disease.”