Heart Study founder recognized at AARP meeting

Published 5:00 am Saturday, May 21, 2016

On Thursday, the Bogalusa chapter of the AARP honored native son Dr. Gerald Berenson.

Berenson founded the Bogalusa Heart Study, which investigated the origins of heart disease. The study, which is ongoing after more than four decades, showed that health and food choices made in childhood could help prevent later occurrences of heart disease. His research on area residents helped doctors craft medical policy that has aimed to lessen the disease, although it is still rampant.

Part of Thursday’s AARP meeting included a brief talk by Michele Staes, a lawyer with the American Heart Association. Staes pointed out that while cancer gets a lot of attention as a killer of women, heart disease is still No. 1.

“A lot of people don’t understand that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women. You hear about so many cancers, but cardiovascular disease kills more women than all the other cancers combined,” Staes said.

Like Berenson’s heart study, she said the AHA is working to reduce heart disease through funding research. However, Staes pointed out reducing heart disease requires more than just medicine but a better lifestyle overall.

“By 2020, our goal is to reduce cardiovascular disease by 20 percent,” she said. “The only way we can do that is if we’re all healthier. That’s the only way that works.”
Staes is the director of charitable estate planning for the AHA, and she was urging AARP members to consider leaving part of their estate to the nonprofit.

“Of course you want to think about your family and your loved ones, but you may also want to think about missions that are important to you and charities that are important to you,” she said.

Staes then presented an award to Berenson, who said he was happy to attend the event but said the award should go to the people of Bogalusa.

“When you give me that award, that goes to the community,” he said. “They’re the ones who participated in the Bog heart study. Y’all are the ones that made it famous.”

Berenson said the American Heart Association was especially important to the project’s success.

“The first grant I got came from the Louisiana Heart Association,” he said. “And then they did away with the local chapters. But my next grant came from the American Heart Association and that caused me to get a grant from the National Institute of Health. And you know what? I’ve been spending your tax money for the last 60 years. I hope I’ve been spending it correctly.”

Before he wrapped up his talk, he offered some medical advice.

“Take your medicine, check your blood pressure,” he said. “Go see the doctor every now and then. But check your blood pressure — don’t let it get out of hand and don’t get overweight. Don’t eat too much salt. It’s bad for you. it’ll make you have hypertension and it’ll put weight on you. Eat a balanced diet. Don’t overeat.”

After speaking, the AARP chapter recognized Berenson’s accomplishments, and Bogalusa City Council member Gloria Kates presented him with a proclamation from the city of Bogalusa.