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Heart health awareness and action for Women of Color

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Ashya Burgess and LaPrincess Brewer
Ashya Burgess and LaPrincess Brewer.
Contributed

Mother's Day is approaching, and if you're anything like us, Mother's Day is one of our favorite holidays. While we celebrate our mothers year-round, this holiday has special importance to us. It gives us the opportunity to honor not just mothers, but the caregivers and nurturers of the Black community.

At the intersection of Mother's Day observance lies the profound and sobering data that shows cardiovascular disease (CVD) disproportionately affects African American women. According to the American Heart Association , nearly 50% of Black women in the United States have some form of CVD. Additionally, “more African American women die from heart disease than breast cancer, lung cancer and strokes combined,” says Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic. Data consistently shows that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in African American women in our nation.

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What’s disheartening is not only do African American women have the highest burden of CVD than any other group, but many don’t even recognize heart disease as being their greatest threat. Recent research studies led by Dr. Rachel Bond, systems director of women's heart health at Dignity Health in Arizona, show that cardiovascular-related conditions and psychosocial stressors, such as racism and the everyday lived experiences of Black women, commonly referred to as the "strong Black woman or Superwoman" role(s), can be linked to Black maternal deaths. This data further intensifies the crisis facing Black women. Many of the disparities plaguing African American women can be traced back to pre-existing systemic and racial inequalities.
Risk factors
The high incidence of heart disease in African American women is in part due to multiple risk factors such as physical inactivity, poor dietary habits, obesity, diabetes, and poor cholesterol and hypertension management, to name a few.

Behind the disparities
Dr. Brewer’s research has focused on preventive cardiology and women’s heart health. Among the findings, her research shows that the social determinants of health play just as big of a role in African American women’s heart health as lifestyle factors. The environments in which people are born, live, work, play or worship are known as social determinants of health, which affect health outcomes.

Unfortunately, African American women are faced with an overwhelmingly high burden of negative social determinants such as:

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  • Chronic stress
  • Food insecurity
  • Systematic racism and discrimination
  • Lack of access to quality health care and safe environment for exercise
  • Wealth gap
  • Residing in disenfranchised communities

Reducing your risk with lifestyle changes, call for advocacy
As we celebrate Mother's Day this year, it is our goal to increase awareness of the CVD disparities and health inequities that Black mothers and their daughters have and continue to face in Minnesota and across our country.

May Mother’s Day empower us all to advocate with Black mothers for equitable health and removal of barriers to optimal health. We must support women around the nation in reducing their heart disease risk by addressing the social determinants of health in the following ways:

  1. Encouraging health literacy
  2. Increasing access and availability to healthy foods by offering affordable healthy food in under-resourced communities 
  3. Making personal exercise equipment and gym memberships more accessible
  4. Increasing job and education opportunities for the socioeconomically disadvantaged to combat poverty
  5. Connecting patients with useful and sustainable social and community resources

Next steps
The next steps are to encourage the women in your life to take charge of the health factors that they can influence on a personal level. This includes knowing important health numbers such as blood pressure, body weight, total cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Encourage women to discuss their heart health risk factors with their clinician, and to seek out and speak up to a clinician who listens. The best time to start is now.

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