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For Your Health: Heart health disparities among African-Americans

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For Your Health: Heart health disparities among African-Americans

By Blanca Gutierrez

April is the National Minority Health Month in the United States. Although the health care field has come a long way to address health inequities, a new report published this month by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that ethnic disparities persist today. The report highlights significant differences in several reported experiences and clinical care measures with care in which Whites receive favorable treatment over Hispanics, American Indian, Alaska Native, and African-Americans. In honor of National Minority Health Month, cardiovascular health disparities will be discussed as well as some innovative approaches to bridging the gap in health care.

What it is heart disease?

Heart disease, also known as coronary heart disease, occurs when arteries (heart veins) become damaged. Heart disease is a serious risk factor and may lead to a heart attack if blood vessels become clogged, blocking oxygen from reaching the heart. Heart disease is one of several different cardiovascular diseases that affect African-Americans and Mexican-Americans at a disproportionate rate.

Disparities, risk factors

A cross-sectional study measured seven health factors and behaviors, commonly referred to as Life’s Simple 7 (LS7), which include: smoking, blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol, diet, hemoglobin A1C and physical activity. The study finds that the reason for the health disparity decline between African-Americans and whites and Mexican Americans and Whites is not due to minorities health improving, rather, it is due to whites’ health declining. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity and diabetes. African-Americans suffer from the highest prevalence of high blood pressure in the world, and new research suggest that African-Americans may carry a gene that increases their sensitivity to salt. African-Americans are also disproportionately affected by obesity. A significant number of minorities reside in food swamps, a term used to describe an area in which there are many fast food restaurants and junk food, with little access to healthy food. It comes as no surprise that food swamps have been associated with higher obesity rates for populations that reside in these areas.

Innovative approach to heart disease treatment

The Colorado Black Health Collaborative’s Barbershop/Salon Health Outreach Program, is one of a few innovative programs in the United States that decided to tackle new prevention strategies for cardiovascular diseases among African-American adults. Studies have shown that African-American males have a lower hypertension detection rate, partly due to males not seeking regular preventive care treatment. Historically, African-American males have experienced heinous maltreatment at the hands of their doctors. From a cultural stance, it is easy to understand why there is an increase in medical mistrust for African-Americans and why some may not seek medical treatment. The Colorado Black Health Collaborative partnered with local barbershops and salons to facilitate screenings, health education and empower the salon patrons to take charge of their health, all occurring in a setting that felt familiar and community oriented for the patrons.

More innovative approaches are needed to bridge the health gap supported by a deep understanding of the cultural and socio-economic barriers and challenges that minorities experience when trying to access health care.

Blanca Gutierrez is a project coordinator at the Community Clinic Consortium, which is a member of Solano Coalition for Better Health.




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