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Heart Health Disparities and Systems That Hurt Black Americans

February 28, 2022

For many people in the United States, accessing health care is difficult. This is particularly true for Black Americans who, as a result of both systemic and structural racism, struggle with ongoing health care disparities. In order to achieve health equity, it's essential to first understand how existing systems negatively impact Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and prevent them from receiving the medical care they need.

Heart Health Statistics

In the United States, Black Americans are at a higher risk of having heart disease and other heart-related health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Almost half of all Black American adults live with some type of cardiovascular disease
  • Two out of five Black Americans have high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes/li>
  • Black Americans are 1.5 times more likely to struggle with obesity which, like high blood pressure, increases the risk of heart disease and strokes
  • 56% of Black American adults don't get enough aerobic exercise which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

However, these statistics are not based on biological differences, emphasizes Dr. Rishi Wadhera, cardiologist and section head of health policy and equity research at the Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

"The persistent disparities between Black and White Americans are due to inequities in access to care, wealth, and neighborhood factors, which are inextricably tied to health," he says. "The reality is that we need to intensify our focus on addressing these social determinants of health, to meaningfully reduce racial and ethnic disparities in cardiovascular health in the United States."

Barriers That Prevent BIPOC from Accessing Health Care

When it comes to accessing quality health care in order to stay healthy, Black Americans face a number of barriers that make doing so difficult.

"Black Americans are less likely to have access to high quality health care and also disproportionately face environmental stressors, such as exposure to pollution, all of which affect health," explains Dr. Wadhera.

In addition, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found that decades of redlining (a now-illegal practice that denies services to residents of specific areas because of their race) have created low-income communities in which residents have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of chronic diseases, such as heart conditions.

"To understand why disparities in heart health exist, you have to look at the systems and policies that impact Black Americans in the United States," says Dr. Wadhera. "The effects of historically racist policies, like redlining, still persist today and are important social determinants of public health."

Making a Change

In honor of Black History Month and American Heart Month, consider taking the following steps to help affect change:

  • Donate to charities that help BIPOC access health care

  • Support local and national policies that aim to end racial inequality

  • Support policies to end racist legislation in the United States

If you're concerned about your heart health, don't wait to speak to your primary care doctor or seek out a cardiologist.