Though COVID-19 has taken the healthcare spotlight the last two years, heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. — and the rate of death is especially high among Black adults. To bridge that disparity, the CDC Foundation has launched “Live to the Beat” as part of its Million Hearts initiative.

“One of the key priorities for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention is preventing cardiovascular disease, which remained the leading cause of death even during the pandemic,” said Kinetra Joseph, campaign director for Million Hearts campaigns at the CDC Foundation. “That said, the CDC has never done a national cardiovascular prevention campaign. It’s a campaign developed for the Black community, informed by the Black community.”

Heart disease deaths have been declining over the decades, but a recent study found that heart disease deaths saw a slight uptick during COVID-19.

Joseph noted that the surge has been felt most acutely by adults aged 25 to 65, as well as in the Black community. The campaign was developed with those demographics in mind and relied on focus groups with some 160 Black people across the U.S.

Those focus groups helped the team identify several priorities.

“The first was that the campaign needed to lean into empathy,” Joseph explained. “We heard in our research that there wasn’t an interest in hearing about statistics or the negative data about cardiovascular disease death rates in the Black community. What they did want was empathy that acknowledged the behaviors we’re promoting – that heart-healthy habits could be easier said than done. They’re looking for acknowledgement that Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

“Live to the Beat” also explores the notion of living and making changes, as opposed to warding off potential severe outcomes from heart disease. The campaign aims to emphasize the idea that small steps can be effective in lowering the risk of heart disease.

Based on feedback from the focus groups, the campaign incorporates real people in its imagery.

“Representation is extremely important, so what you’ll see in this campaign is not an emphasis on individuals who appear to have already arrived on their healthcare journey,” Joseph explained. “You’ll see real people instead of filtered model figures.”

The broader Million Hearts campaign aims to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2027. Ultimately, the organization hopes “Live to the Beat” will spur change in a similar manner.

“Behavior change is a longer haul and we’re realistic about that, so we are hoping to see some movement in small steps,” Joseph said. “That progress could look like moving more, eating healthier or working with your doctor more during the course of this campaign.”