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American Heart Association to Tackle Racial Health Disparities

The American Heart Association is funding new programs for scientific research on diseases that disproportionately hit underrepresented communities. (Adobe Stock)
The American Heart Association is funding new programs for scientific research on diseases that disproportionately hit underrepresented communities. (Adobe Stock)
November 18, 2020

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Spurred on by racial imbalances in COVID-19 deaths and a national reckoning on race, the American Heart Association has put out a call to action for health groups to tackle the structural racism that leads to major health disparities.

According to the group, institutional discrimination in the United States contributes to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes in Black and Brown communities. AHA president Dr. Mitchell Elkind, a physician at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center, said knowledge of these health gaps isn't new, but his group sees a greater sense of urgency to address them.

"The Association will leverage our scientific enterprise, education and advocacy work to support national awareness of structural racism, and to promote a national reconciliation," he said. "The people of these communities deserve nothing less, and society must demand it."

He said the group is committing millions of dollars to scientific research on diseases that hit underrepresented communities. Funding also will go toward new local, state and federal efforts to provide equitable access to health care and healthy food.

Elkind said health-care accessibility among races is uneven. Even with the Affordable Care Act, which is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, Black and Brown people still are more likely to be uninsured than White people. Gaps in heart disease rates also are pronounced.

"Black Americans continue to experience a nearly 30% higher death rate from cardiovascular disease and a 45% higher death rate from cardiovascular disease and a 45% higher death rate from stroke compared with non-Hispanic White Americans," he said.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, heart disease is the leading cause of death for African-Americans. In Virginia, deaths from heart ailments are about 1.3 times more common for Black people than White people. Virginia data is available online at americashealthrankings.org.

Disclosure: American Heart Association Mid Atlantic Affiliate contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Poverty Issues, Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA