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Leveling the playing field in dealing with heart health

Gwendolyn Freeman
Posted at 9:26 AM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 12:26:05-04

When it comes to heart disease, everyone isn't created equal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanics are nearly 25% more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have poorly controlled high blood pressure. Black adults are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure.

Geraldo Rodriguez is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. Now he lives in Pinellas County, Florida. He’ll marvel at the weather and his surroundings— yet he talks less about his health.

At 83 years old, Rodriguez suffers from hypertension and high blood pressure.

“My mother died from high blood pressure,” Rodriguez said.

He is part of a statistic that has reached epidemic proportions. According to a study by the American Heart Association, it’s not just about how a person lives, but where they live may be just as important.

“Cardiovascular disease overall is not just a problem of older people. We've known for a long time that it actually begins to occur much earlier in the course of people's lives out in these communities,” Dr. Kevin Sneed said. “These lower socioeconomic situations leave more segregated opportunities that are lack of opportunity that overall people have. They reveal the worst cardiovascular outcomes later in life.”

The study found where a person calls home from ages 18 to 30, and how diverse the home is, may have a strong impact on their heart health. It found racially segregated neighborhoods often have less access to health care, fewer grocery stores providing healthy food options, and fewer safe spaces for recreation. They bring more stress, driving unhealthy coping behaviors like poor eating habits that increase the risk for heart disease.

Geraldo has to pay for a bus service to get to the nearest grocery store. He is on a fixed income which makes spending money to purchase healthy food.

By knowing which neighborhoods need help means knowing how to target that help. The American Heart Association is visiting food banks and talking about nutrition. They’re educating youth about heart risks. And most of all, they’re facilitating the necessary medical attention so many don’t receive. Their hope is to catch heart disease early and break the cycle.

“Our quest right now is to really erase the difference in terms of cardiovascular challenges between African American communities, our Latino communities and even some of the Asian communities that we're beginning to reach out to right now to get to a point where there is no difference at all as we're continuing to lower the number for everybody,” Dr. Sneed said.