Healthier Together: Disparities in heart health for people of color are ‘stunning’ (

Posted Friday March 08, 2024

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The disparities in heart health for people of color are stunning and they mirror the heath disparities we see across the board in the U.S., Executive Medical Director of Regence BlueShield, Dr. Nicole Saint Clair said.

According to Dr. Saint Clair, Black adults experience a higher burden of cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension and obesity. They are more than twice as likely to die of cardiovascular disease, relative to white adults.

Deep-rooted structural racism has led to people of color having adverse social determinants of health, such as lack of access to health care, lower income, and job and housing instability. Structural racism goes back to segregation and things like red lining of neighborhoods and a lack of educational and economic opportunities. Because of these historical disadvantages, many communities of color are also more likely to have higher rate of conditions like diabetes and blood pressure, which are all major risk factors for heart disease.

In January, a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found women and Black men are far less likely to receive potentially lifesaving heart failure treatments.

“Women often times are underrepresented in studies and kind of looking at what are the best ways to manage heart health,” Dr. Saint Clair said. “Heart disease is the number one killer of women. And for me, as an OB/gyn, I would add that heart disease is also the number one killer of pregnant women and new moms. So this is spanning a woman’s entire life span.”

Dr. Saint Clair emphasized the need for all stakeholders (local, state, and federal elected officials and policymakers, community leaders, health care industry leaders, and researchers) to work together to address these ongoing disparities.

“It’s critically important to really get as far as we can into the root causes of these disparities and really addressing them one by one. We know that there’s not one single thing. We may find a list of ten problems that are contributing to one outcome, but we have to systematically go after each one of those,” Dr, Saint Clair said. “And we have to hold ourselves accountable… Now that we have some of this information, we need to respond and be accountable to making changes, and tracking the outcomes to see ‘Are we making progress? Are things improving?’”

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