In this month’s Take Charge of Your Health page, we are discussing cardiovascular disease and the health disparities that come along with it. We know that poor heart health can lead to a cardiovascular event like a heart attack.
According to the American Heart Association, heart health can be affected by your cholesterol, heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose level. For years, cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of death within the United States, but, as these unprecedented times continue to unravel, COVID-19 has taken that number one place. Both COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease are still growing issues in this country, and both continue to affect Black and Brown communities at higher rates than other populations.
Physician and researcher Dr. Utibe Essien has begun to dig deeper to find answers to some questions about cardiovascular disease and why it affects Black and Brown communities at a higher rate. When it comes to high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, which are commonplace in the same underserved communities, it is extremely vital to know ways to prevent these health conditions with the limited resources that are available. Some great ways to improve your cardiac health are to understand your blood pressure numbers, learn CPR, watch your salt intake and stop smoking.
We cannot discuss health disparities without addressing the social determinants of health, and we cannot address social determinants without talking about systemic issues. Access to quality health care, education, transportation, safety and healthy foods make a world of difference in people’s health. It goes without saying that a lack of access leads to a decline in quality of health. Though many in our community continue to be uninsured, there are far more who are underinsured or do not have a primary care physician. In Pittsburgh, food deserts also continue to be a concern. Food deserts occur in communities that lack easy access to or are completely cut off from grocery stores. To shop for healthy food—that often cannot be found in their corner convenience stores—people who live in food deserts and who are without transportation often must ride multiple buses. In his research, Dr. Essien suggests that the community you call home could potentially be detrimental to your health. His findings indicate that people who live in highly polluted areas develop atrial fibrillation over time. Also, Dr. Essien found that 25% of Black patients are less likely to receive oral medications for atrial fibrillation and 37% less likely to receive newer medications that may be easier to use. These are frightening statistics. These numbers would discourage anyone away who may be looking for a solution to their health issues. But advising people simply to seek medical advice may not be enough. Real change in health care is needed.
We have a large gap to close when it comes to health disparities that disproportionally affect Black and Brown people. Dr. Essien is working, along with many other researchers and health care providers, toward solutions that will close that gap of inequity. One thing remains—heart health is vital and should not be overlooked.
Take Charge of Your Health.
Esther L. Bush, President and CEO
Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh