First lady Jill Biden in Atlanta to boost women’s health research

“We have a clear goal: to fundamentally change how we approach and fund women’s health research.”
First Lady Jill Biden speaks during Morehouse School of Medicine’s 2024 Women’s Heart Healthy Luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium, Wednesday, February 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

First Lady Jill Biden speaks during Morehouse School of Medicine’s 2024 Women’s Heart Healthy Luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium, Wednesday, February 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

First Lady Jill Biden traveled to Atlanta on Wednesday, marking the second time this week that the White House brought a message about women’s health to Georgia.

Just one day earlier, on Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Savannah to make an appeal to abortion rights supporters.

The Biden re-election campaign has made women’s health, including abortion rights, a central theme of the pitch to voters.

Biden narrowly carried Georgia in 2020. Former President Donald Trump’s re-election hopes in 2024 depend heavily on him winning back states like Georgia.

Launched by the President and the first lady in November 2023, the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is designed to galvanize the federal government as well as the private and philanthropic sectors to spur innovation and investment to close research gaps and improve women’s health.

First Lady Jill Biden is greeted by Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, President of Morehouse School of Medicine, during Morehouse School of Medicine’s 2024 Women’s Heart Healthy Luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium, Wednesday, February 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Her afternoon in Atlanta started at the Georgia Aquarium where she spoke at the Morehouse School of Medicine’s “2024 Women’s Heart Healthy Luncheon.”

Biden wore a red dress in a room filled with women in red dresses, hats and shoes to mark February’s heart health month.

“What you’ve heard today is powerful – the ways in which heart disease is connected to diabetes, hypertension, and pregnancy, and how it’s even connected to our genes based on new research from the Morehouse School of Medicine,” Biden said at the luncheon.

“But just knowing this isn’t enough. We have to turn our knowledge into action. And to do that we need to better understand heart disease in women and study it more.”

The sold-out luncheon of over 500 raises funds for “Women with Heart,” a volunteer organization established in 2009 by former first lady of Morehouse School of Medicine, Eilene Maupin. The organization provides student scholarship funds, promotes healthy lifestyles, and increases community awareness of heart health and cardiovascular disease. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the creation of the Women with Heart initiative.

“For 15 years, the women in this room have been committed to raising awareness about heart disease – and learning from each other, about one another,” she said.

First Lady Jill Biden speaks as Maria Toler (right), Founding and Managing Partner of SteelSky Ventures, looks on during Atlanta Listening Session on Women’s Health Research at Coda at Tech Square, Wednesday, February 7, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Biden later spoke at a women’s health roundtable at Coda at Tech Square, a tech hub designed to promote innovation and collaboration with local leaders who are working to accelerate women’s health research.

The participants included Dr. Tene Lewis, an epidemiology professor and women’s health researcher at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of Morehouse School of Medicine and Maria Toler, founding partner of SteelSky Ventures, a female-led venture fund investing in innovative women’s health companies.

“I’m here today because I heard about the amazing work that’s happening in Atlanta, where universities, entrepreneurs, investors, companies, and city leaders are coming together to drive innovation in women’s health,” Biden said.

“We have a clear goal: to fundamentally change how we approach and fund women’s health research.”

Women make up more than half of the U.S. population but remain understudied and underrepresented in health research, and those gaps can lead to serious consequences.

Biden said because of these gaps, “we know far too little about how to manage and treat conditions like endometriosis, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.”

These gaps are even greater for communities that have historically been excluded from research – including women of color and women with disabilities, she said.

Montgomery Rice of Morehouse spoke before the luncheon to say Black women in particular have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and they have a higher mortality rate as a result.

She said the Heart Healthy luncheon is intended to educate and empower women with information they can act on. “One of the most powerful parts of the day will be when we have the empty stool. We will have four stools there: Three will have women who had heart disease, and one will be empty. And it will be really indicating what happens when we don’t take care of ourselves and unfortunately, die from heart disease.”

Women of all races and ethnicities gathered at the roundtable discussion with Biden to discuss health issues. “We hope that we’re going to be discussing solutions ... in how we’re going to eliminate disparities in women’s health. (Solutions) that really empower women to take control and reduce all of the challenges that are associated with our health overall lifespan.”

Biden has worked on women’s health issues since 1993 when four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. She then launched a program to teach Delaware high school girls about the importance of breast care health.

AJC Washington correspondent Tia Mitchell contributed to this article.


Heart disease in women

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 60 million women (44%) in the U.S. are living with some form of heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. and can affect women at any age.

In 2021, it was responsible for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.

The most common types of heart disease in women:

  • Arrhythmia is when your heart beats too slowly or too fast.
  • Coronary artery disease, which is caused by plaque build-up on the walls of the arteries. After menopause, women are at higher risk due to hormonal changes.
  • “Heart failure” or a weakening heart that is no longer pumping blood effectively. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen.

Symptoms of heart disease in women

In some women, the first sign they have of heart disease is a heart attack. Although some women have no symptoms of heart disease, others may have:

  • Angina — usually felt as a dull or heavy chest discomfort or ache.
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or throat
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or back

Risk factors:

In women, risk factors may be related to reproductive health and pregnancy, such as having a first period before age 11 or early menopause before age 40. Diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy are also considered factors.

Risk factors are having high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking. The CDC reports about half of people in the United States (47%) have at least one of these three risk factors.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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