One in three — that’s how many women are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease annually. It’s a sobering reality for our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our friends, and some of us. Monday marked the start of American Heart Month and Friday, February 5, 2021 is National Wear Red Day. February is a time to reflect on the impact that cardiovascular disease and stroke have on our families and communities, but it is also important that we acknowledge the disparities that exist around awareness, access, and treatment for black, indigenous, and other individuals of color. An American Heart Association Special Report recently outlined critical gaps among younger women and women of color when it comes to the fact that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women.

Since 1924, the AHA has been fighting heart disease and stroke. Research and clinical guidelines have improved treatments, but the lack of equitable access has stunted prevention efforts. In Minnesota, we celebrate our place among the healthiest states in the country, but we also have some of the worst health disparities nationwide. A woman’s ability to live healthy and access quality, affordable health care for herself and her family is limited by socioeconomic factors such as structural racism and disparities in education, income, wealth, nutrition access and housing.

For example, in the Twin Cities, a few miles between neighborhoods could equate to a 27-year difference in life expectancy. A person’s zip code could have more impact on their health than genetic code. Communities in outstate Minnesota are also challenged with long distances to grocery stores, transportation barriers and access to health clinics. The AHA in the Twin Cities has already had some early success by placing blood pressure kiosks in St. Paul’s Hmong Village and Minneapolis’s Division of Indian Work to address untreated high blood pressure -- a big contributor to the disparities impacting these populations. The AHA is also offering mini-grants to help Federally Qualified Health across Minnesota access our clinical programs to address blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes especially among priority populations.

To address gaps in awareness and mortality in underserved communities and support innovative solutions to achieve equitable health, the American Heart Association has launched the first Minnesota EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator. The accelerator is giving social entrepreneurs the opportunity to apply for financial grants to serve underlying health conditions in their communities. During the Go Red for Women Evening of Empowerment on February 11th, we will introduce our top eight Minnesota Business Accelerator candidates, all working to create greater impact and opportunities for women’s health equity in Minnesota. During the event, attendees will learn more about our overall work in Minnesota, including the importance of CPR and ways to get involved in our efforts in the Minnesota Legislature.

I invite you to join me in wearing red on Friday, February 5th 2021 to help raise awareness of heart disease and stroke, and then register and join us for our Go Red for Women Evening of Empowerment on Thursday, February 11. We also invite you to join us for our Heart Month Wellness Webinar on February 16th from 6-7pm or February 18th from 8-9am. Local medical professionals will discuss heart healthy habits, including blood pressure control, healthy eating, and quality sleep. Register for free for one or all of our Heart Month events at www.heart.org/minnesota.

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Cushman M, Shay CM, Howard VJ, Jiménez MC, Lewey J, McSweeney JC, Newby LK, Poudel R, Reynolds HR, Rexrode KM, Sims M, Mosca LJ; on behalf of the American Heart Association. Ten-year differences in women’s awareness related to coronary heart disease: results of the 2019 American Heart Association National Survey: a special report from the American Heart Association.