The Intersection of American Heart Month And African Heritage Health Week

by Catherine Ernotte

The Intersection of American Heart Month And African Heritage Health Week

February is a busy month, recognizing American Heart Month, African Heritage and Health Week, and Black History Month all at once.

In February 1964 President Lyndon Johnson was nine years post-heart attack when he declared that an annual recognition of Heart Disease was important.

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Heart Disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States.  The good news?  It is also one of the most preventable.  Heart Disease has an impressive scope and impact.  Coronary Artery Disease, where the blood vessels of the coronary arteries become blocked by fat deposits, is attributed to 1 in 7 deaths in the US (American Heart Association- AHA). In fact, someone in the US has a heart attack every 40 seconds and someone dies from a heart disease-related event every 60 seconds (Center for Disease Control-CDC).

It is estimated that the annual incidence of heart attacks in the US is 720,000 new and 335,000 recurrent.  The average age of the first heart attack is 65 years old for men and 72 years old for women. (AHA).  Heart disease costs in the US are estimated at $200 billion annually related to health care, medications, and lost productivity (CDC).

These are the kinds of risk factors related to heart disease in America:

  • Hypertension, high cholesterol, and a history of smoking are estimated to be present in approximately 49% of the American population.

  • 1 out of 3 US adults do not engage in leisure-time physical activity. Nearly 1 out of 3 American adults have high levels of “lousy-bad” LDL cholesterol which increases the incidence of heart disease (AHA).

  • 30% of American adults have stage 1 elevated blood pressure which contributes to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease (CDC).

  • 37% of US adults are obese, a risk factor for Heart Disease (AHA).

African Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease:

  • Heart Disease is a leading cause of death in most racial or ethnic groups in the US which includes African Americans, Hispanics, or nonwhite populations (CDC)

  • The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans is high and can cause permanent damage to the heart before detected.  This is why it is known as the “silent killer.”  It becomes more severe by developing earlier in life.

  • African Americans are disproportionally affected by obesity.  It is estimated that for non-Hispanic blacks 20 years old and above that 69% of men and 82% of women are overweight or obese.


  • Engage in moderate exercise 30 min at least 5 days a week.  Start slower and build up as needed.

  • Eat a diet low in salt, sugar, saturated and trans fats and high in unsaturated fats.  The Mediterranean      Diet is one example.

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake

  • See your doctor and address the presence of high blood pressure or cholesterol through medications of lifestyle changes noted above.  You may have inherited the risk but you can help yourself through good self-care.

  • Get enough sleep.  If your partner snores have them evaluated for sleep apnea which is linked to heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias (beating irregularly).

  • Maintain good dental hygiene and floss daily.  Gum infections are correlated to heart disease.

  • Incorporating these elements into your day may keep your heart healthy and prevent sudden death.

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