For Immediate Release
February 07, 2024
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(BPRW) Treating Health Disparities: The Link Between Black History & American Heart Observances

(Black PR Wire) Miami, FL -- African-Americans are disproportionately harder hit by cardiovascular disease risk factors and are as much as three times more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association. 

That’s why healthcare professionals emphasize that the connection between two major observances, both of which happen to fall in February, should not be ignored: Black History Month and American Heart Month.

While overall cardiovascular death rates have been declining, a report last year in the Journal of the American Heart Association – based on socio-economic federal data -- found that cardiovascular death rates remained higher in rural counties and in counties with a higher percentage of Black residents. Cardiovascular death rates were most strongly linked to income status, along with access to healthy foods and housing, suggesting that addressing these issues could save lives, the American Heart Association (AHA) states.

Marcus St. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist and medical director of Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute‘s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab), is also the AHA’s board president in South Florida. 

“One of the ways that the American Heart Association is working towards getting health equity is reaching into communities where there's need,” explains Dr. St. John. “For example, the AHA is helping set up food shelters or making sure that people are trained in bystander CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). There is data that people in underrepresented communities, Blacks or Hispanics, are less likely to have successful CPR performed than white populations, even if cardiac arrest happens in the home. Unfortunately, there is a lack of CPR training in these communities.”

Dr. St. John and the AHA emphasize that socio-economic factors behind higher heart-disease risk factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and obesity, tend to be more prevalent in African-American communities. The AHA notes that inequities in income level, educational attainment, and employment status at the individual and neighborhood levels are consistently associated with heart disease outcomes. 

“While equity has become a bit of a charged term, most people can agree that everyone should have an equal shot chance at achieving their optimal health,” said Dr. St. John. 

Reaching out to communities in need may involve locations where residents tend to gather, whether it’s a church or the local barber shop. “It may sound corny, but the barber shop is a place in the Black community where a lot of information gets shared,” said Dr. St. John. “There’s also the church or wherever people gather socially. Reaching people where they are is an important way that we increase equitable access to healthcare and health information.”

For everyone, knowing your numbers is the best way to prevent or treat heart disease, and the potential for heart attacks or strokes. Coronary artery disease (CAD), more commonly known as heart disease, remains the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. The American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8 metrics to help treat or prevent heart disease includes healthy sleep, not smoking, regular physical activity, healthy diet, ideal body weight, and optimal levels of blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. 

“For everyone, it still comes down to the basics -- blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels -- and you have to know your numbers to know those risk factors,” explains Dr. St. John. “It’s about making sure everyone has access to healthcare and are educated about knowing their risk factors. 

“I'm constantly amazed by what people don't know. So, we will never need to stop educating and articulating this vital information – knowing your numbers (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol), not smoking, reaping the benefits of a non-sedentary lifestyle by being active. We are also recognizing the importance of other factors such as stress management, good quality sleep, and the value of social interactions.”