SIKESTON -- After flipping through this month's issue of Glamour magazine, 21-year-old Donnie Dixon came across a piece of information that caught her eye: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among American women.
"I'd never heard that before," Dixon admitted. "I've just never actually sat down and thought about what the No. 1 killer is for women, and I started thinking, 'Wow that could be me.'"
Apparently Dixon isn't the only one not aware of women's No. 1 killer.
Fewer than a third of women in a national survey recognized heart disease as the leading cause of death for American women. Only 9 percent of women named heart disease as a condition they fear most -- 61 percent named breast cancer. But as Dixon read further, she learned of the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute's national campaign, called Heart Truth, which pairs the message with a visual -- the red dress -- symbolizing "heart disease doesn't care what you wear."
Dixon shared the news with her co-workers and together, they decided to take on the national campaign locally.
Today, Dixon and co-workers at Dr. Theo Roberts' office in Sikeston are donning red dresses and high heels -- or red scrubs in some cases -- and passing out heart disease literature to their customers. They're even sporting the official Red Dress Project pins.
"It was interesting," said Dixon's co-worker Dianne Jackson. "I've heard of this before and read the article so I said 'Let's do this. Let's try to promote awareness.'"
Heart Truth first introduced the Red Dress as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness during American Heart Month at Fashion Week in February 2003.
And recently President George W. Bush issued a proclamation that declares February American Heart Month and designates today as the first-ever National Wear Red Day.
"I know heart problems run deep in my family and I'm probably at risk for heart disease down the line. My sister has had a heart problem all of her life. She's 17," Dixon said.
Jackson said the nine female employees ranging in ages 20-50 are trying to get area women to reduce their modifiable risk factors. For example, women can work on their weight, blood pressure, exercise routine and stress reduction.
"Our main focus is to get them to think about examining themselves and ask questions like 'What's my blood pressure? What's my cholesterol level and am I due for a check? What's my family history?'" said 46-year-old Jackson, who admitted she is being treated for high blood pressure.
Jackson said she's beginning to lead a healthier lifestyle, while Dixon said she's also started to eat better and does Pilates three times a week.
A video by the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) promoting cardiovascular health in African American women, featuring Maya Angelou, is also available for viewing, noted Jackson, who is a member of ABC. It's reported the death rate from heart disease is 69 percent higher in African American women than in Caucasian women.
"The video stresses that the woman is key to a family's health," Jackson explained. "She makes sure everybody gets to the doctor and sometimes fails to take care of her health so if she focuses on her health, then everyone else will be healthy, too."
On the national level today, which is opening day of Olympus Fashion Week, fashion industry leaders -- including top designers, models and celebrities -- unite on one runway to debut a new collection of 24 red dresses created exclusively for The Heart Truth campaign to raise awareness about heart disease.
Macy's is also ''Going Red for Women'' as part of its three-year, $4.5 million commitment to the American Heart Association to help fight heart disease in women.
Macy's hopes to help the association raise awareness for heart disease with fashion events, cooking demonstrations and special merchandise.
Beginning Wednesday, Macy's also began selling a ''red dress'' Gund toy bear, donating $5 to the association for each sale. Free red dress pins will be available at all Macy's stores and online at www.macys.com, and select Macy's stores will feature Swarovski's Little Red Dress pin. The crystal maker has vowed to give the association up to $100,000 from the proceeds.
''Seventy percent of our customers are women and 70 percent of our employees are women. It made sense for us to get involved and encourage women to lead stronger, healthier lives,'' says Terry J. Lundgren, CEO and chairman of Macy's parent company, Federated Department Stores.
Other companies participating in the association's heart disease fund-raising and awareness campaigns are Pantene, which will donate a portion of February conditioner sales to the association.
"It's a wonderful project," Jackson said. "We just want to make women aware that heart disease doesn't care what you what you wear."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.