Increasing Awareness of Disparities in Cardiovascular Health Care

heart disease, Heart Health, hypertension, racial disparity

It is well established that cardiovascular disease is disproportionately higher in blacks than in whites, Asians and Hispanics.  In fact, death from heart disease is 1.7 to 2-fold higher in black men compared to white men 45 years and older.  Similarly in women, cardiovascular events are also elevated in blacks compared to whites with an approximate 2.5-fold risk beginning in middle-age (45+ years).

According to the American Heart Association, 7 core health behaviors/risk factors shape the likelihood of developing a heart attack or stroke. They include: blood pressure (BP), body mass index (BMI), cholesterol level, dietary habits, glucose control, physical activity and smoking history.  In an otherwise healthy individual, “ideal” cardiovascular health would be defined as optimal core health behaviors/risk factors such as 1) BP less than 120/70; 2) BMI between 18-24.9 kg/m2, 3) LDL cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dL, 4) a diet low in animal based saturated and trans fats, 5) fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL, 6) being physically active (at least 150 minutes of mild-moderate activity [such as brisk walking at 3-5 mph] per week) and 7) not smoking cigarettes.  Unfortunately, less than 1 in 3 adult men/women exhibit ideal cardiovascular health led by Asians (29%) and Whites (19%) while Hispanics and Blacks (14% and 10%) lag well. behind this milestone.   For a more comprehensive review on this topic, check out our recent paper led by my colleague, Dr. Penny-Kris Etherton.

Listed below are further insights into the barriers, challenges and opportunities for implementing change to reduce disparities in diet-related heart disease based upon the publication in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

  1. Food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable foods that comprise a healthy diet (e.g., fruits, vegetables, low‐fat milk, whole grains). In Baltimore, high availability of healthy foods was only present in 19% of predominately black neighborhoods compared to 68% of white neighborhoods.
  2. A study conducted in Atlanta found that individuals in food deserts were more likely to be black, less likely to be college graduates, and had lower income compared with individuals in nonfood deserts.
  3. Access to supermarkets stocking affordable healthy foods is associated with greater likelihood of fulfilling healthy dietary recommendations. For each supermarket present in a census tract, the intake of fruits and vegetables rose by 32%.
  4. Large disparities exist in supermarket access in predominately black communities. There are 5 times more supermarkets in census tracts where whites live compared to where blacks reside.
  5. Approximately 3.5% of the US population live in a food swamp, defined by the ratio of fast-food outlets and convenience stores to supermarkets and grocery stores in a given area.
  6. Financial incentives to encourage purchasing of healthy foods and/or disincentives or restrictions on purchasing of unhealthy foods improves diet quality, especially in low‐income groups. A 10% reduction in the price of healthy foods increased consumption by 12%.
  7. An increase in the cost (tax) of unhealthy foods decreased consumption by 6%. This approach reduced intake of sugar‐sweetened beverages (9%), fast food (3%), and other unhealthy beverages (5%).

Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.  Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1