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Perdue, Cunningham kick off state's fight against chronic disease

Gov. Beverly Perdue talks with Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood, director of the East Carolina Heart Institute, as Dr. Phyllis Horns, ECU interim vice chancellor for health sciences, looks on. Photo by Cliff Hollis.
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Apr. 3, 2009)   —   Gov. Beverly Perdue announced a new statewide initiative to fight chronic disease at East Carolina University on Friday, April 3.

The North Carolina Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease is a collective of health organizations, health advocates, faith organizations, business leaders and community leaders committed to educating the public and policy-makers about the causes and effects of chronic disease and its role in health care reform.

The state group is part of a larger national coalition.

North Carolina has a stroke death rate 25 percent higher than the national average for whites and one-third higher for blacks, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of adults with diabetes has doubled to 9 percent in the past 15 years. Twenty-nine percent of N.C. adults have high blood pressure, and 40 percent have high blood cholesterol.

Chronic disease problems are generally worse in eastern North Carolina.

"I don't like the data that says we're the ... most chronically ill place in America," Perdue said at the event, held at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU. "There are no easy solutions. You know that and I know that. We've got to stop a killer. Actually, it's a gang of killers: heart disease, cancer, diabetes."

Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, co-chairs the state partnership along with Thea Monet, executive director of the Old North State Medical Society.

Cunningham, who practiced in rural Bertie County before joining the ECU faculty in the early 1980s, talked about the disproportionate toll chronic disease takes on minorities. He said minorities have mortality rates 35 percent greater for diabetes, 12 percent higher for stroke and 10 percent higher for cancer.

"Bertie County is the poster child for me, the canary in the coal mine if you will," he said. "We're beginning to make some progress on racial disparities in the region, but we're not there yet. When the statistics improve in Bertie County, we can be assured we've made a difference."

Cancer, heart disease, asthma, obesity and other chronic diseases claim 1.7 million American lives yearly and cost more than $1.5 trillion, according to the CDC.

Even political figures fight chronic disease.

"I'm walking around with high blood pressure. I think it's politically induced, not medically induced," Perdue said.

More information about the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease is online at


Contact: Doug Boyd | 252-744-2482