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First lady: Campaigning for health and husband

First lady Laura Bush
First lady Laura Bush

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CNN's John King talks with first lady Laura Bush about an effort to increase awareness of women's vulnerability to heart disease. (February 2)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Helping kick off American Heart Month, first lady Laura Bush began campaigning Monday to raise awareness about heart disease among women.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King spoke Monday with Bush in the White House's Red Room about her efforts for women's health and her role in the re-election campaign.

KING: [Heart disease is] the No. 1 killer of women, and yet if you look at the statistics -- I looked at one survey -- only 8 percent of women consider heart disease to be their greatest risk. Why the disparity?

BUSH: That's right. Because the word just isn't out, and when I heard those statistics myself, I was shocked. I assumed, like I think a lot of women do, that cancer was the No. 1 killer of women. But in fact heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined.

And the really good news is heart disease is preventable. If women really make the lifestyle changes that they need to make, they can prevent heart disease for themselves, an example -- a really good example for their children while they do that.

KING: Lifestyle changes you talk about but also awareness about the symptoms.

BUSH: That's right.

KING: And look at this research. Many women have very different symptoms than men. When you think of heart disease, you think of chest pains. You think of pain in your arm. ...

BUSH: Women might have a jaw pain or a neck pain or a back pain. Also women just don't expect to have a heart attack. They think heart attacks are for men. So women seek help a lot later than men do. They would rush their husbands to the hospital if their husbands felt -- had shortness of breath or broke out in a sweat or, you know, felt really bad -- but they don't rush there themselves. And because of that, they suffer more damage because they get to the hospital later when they are having a heart attack than most men do.

KING: And in trying to raise awareness among women, you're also trying to raise awareness among doctors, who might not notice these symptoms.

BUSH: And doctors don't know either. They also think that heart disease is a man's disease. And, in fact, one of the women I'm going to talk about today -- when President Bush signs the proclamation for American Heart Month -- went to the hospital. She thought she was having a heart attack, and the doctor that saw her there just said, "No, you couldn't be. You're too young, and you're a woman." But she insisted that she have an EKG, and she was having a heart attack.

KING: Now this is a campaign. You'll be out raising public awareness for this. You also will be out trying to help the president get re-elected. How does your role change this year? And are you looking forward to that?

BUSH: I am looking forward to it. Campaigns are a lot of fun. They're great sometimes, and sometimes they're terrible. But they -- but all in all they are really nice. Politics is all about people. If you like people, then you like a political campaign. You get to -- we'll get to see old friends all across the country and meet new people. So I do look forward to it.

KING: When you have your morning coffee with the president or conversations at night, are you debating whether you want to run against Gov. [Howard] Dean or Sen. [John] Kerry? Do you get into that detail of the campaign so far?

BUSH: Sure. We're not debating it, but we're discussing it.

KING: Well, if you're talking about it, you're ...

BUSH: I won't tell you what they are, but ...

KING: You won't tell me. I had a funny feeling that was coming.

BUSH: It's an interesting time, and one of the controversies has been, as you know, about the whole debate over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And we are told the president this week will name a new commission ...

KING: ... to look into the quality of the intelligence. What are your thoughts and his thought on why that is necessary? And it's a politically charged issue.

BUSH: Well, he'll have to tell you his thoughts. But he, like everyone else, wants to know where the intelligence failures were, if there were any. And, of course, I believe that our world is a lot safer without Saddam Hussein.

KING: Let me come back a second to this issue of raising public awareness. When you raise public awareness about a women's health issue, what do you do behind the scenes here? The president's budget comes out today. People will be looking at all of the programs and who gets more money and who gets less. Are you involved in it?

BUSH: And one of the things in the budget -- in the new budget that comes out today -- is more money for the NIH, for the National Institutes of Health. So we can do more research about heart disease and more research about prevention and ways people can change their lifestyle. And that sounds so difficult when you say change your lifestyle, but it really can be simple if women will just take one step.

About 30 percent of the women who have heart disease are obese. And if women can just really start to watch their diets, get a heart healthy diet, get just a little bit of exercise -- they say you just need only about 30 minutes a day.

So, if you can get up off the couch and go for a walk, take your baby in a stroller or go out for a walk with your dog, you can really increase your heart health. And really each of those steps can be small steps, but they'll make a huge difference in your life.

KING: And quickly in closing, how do you work that in around here? You're very busy.

BUSH: We are busy. But, as you know, the president exercises every day. He has great heart health. And I also work out. I have -- there's a gym upstairs. I walk on a treadmill unless I can walk outside, which is what my preference is.

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