This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By JoAnn Weaver

One in three deaths in the United States is due to cardiovascular disease. 

African American and older individuals are at a higher risk than others, and about 2 out of every 5 African American adults have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Less than half of them have the condition under control. African American adults are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart attacks, and stroke deaths than white adults. 

Among Black adults 20 years of age and older, 60.1% of males and 58.8% of females had heart disease, according to 2015 to 2018 data from the American Heart Association (AHA).

In 2016, the heart disease mortality rate was highest among Black people compared to other racial and ethnic groups. In 2019 among all ages, cardiovascular disease or heart disease caused the deaths of 57,761 Black men and 54,544 Black women in the nation, according to the AHA.

Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Interim Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Washington University School of Medicine spoke about why this is happening.

“The research is showing that heart attacks are on the rise in younger women,” she said. “One reason for this is the large number of [obesity cases] in the community along with the high numbers of [patients with] hypertension and diabetes, which are all factors of heart disease.”

Nationally, heart disease is the number one killer of women, according to the CDC. Hooks-Anderson talks about how recent research has linked heart disease to pregnancy complications. 

“If a woman had diabetes and hypertension in pregnancy and had an early delivery, there has been research that shows there is a link between this and cardiovascular disease later. So younger women need to start thinking about heart disease, particularly if they have those types of complications,” she said.  

Also, among Black adults 20 years of age and older, 3.9% of males and 2.3% of females have had a heart attack, according to the heart association. In 2019 among all ages, heart disease caused the deaths of 22,643 Black males and 18,021 Black females.

In addition to discussing the disproportionate rate of heart disease in African Americans, Hooks-Anderson talked about preventative measures to practice that can mitigate the risk.

“The number one for me would be exercise because so many African Americans put exercise on the back burner,” she said. “The second is being intentional about what we put in our bodies and [trying] to make our plates colorful. 

A staple in the Black household is soul food, which includes fried chicken, mac and cheese, greens, candied sweet potatoes and cornbread. 

“Most of that plate should be plant-based and not deep fried or filled with things that don’t give us the nutrition that we need,” Hooks-Anderson said. “We need to keep our recipes but transform them into healthy dishes.”

An individual needs between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day, according to Hooks-Anderson.

“This may mean that we need to shop at farmer’s markets to find less expensive versions of these things, but we should be intentional about it, and we may need to learn to cook differently; a lot of the [foods] that we grew up on are not good for us,” she said.

As heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death for African Americans, it’s important for the African American community to learn about these conditions and what can be done to stay healthy.

Dr. Stephanie White, cardiologist at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital, talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced primary care visits for people, especially African Americans.

“Primary care is a great prevention tool and the pandemic has really affected that with people not wanting to get out and go to the doctor,” she said.

White also spoke about what information she gives out when she goes into a community to give a health talk.

“I tell people to know your numbers, and it’s about knowing early on what your blood pressure is because you can’t treat a problem if you don’t know if you have one,” she said.