Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the western world, especially in the African-American community. Although many are baffled as to the reasons and point to the lack of adequate healthcare and inadequate research, the answers may lie in looking at modifiable risk factors and how they relate to the African-American community.
Some of the chief contributing factors for heart disease in any race are as follows: excessive weight, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and diabetes. The majority of these risk factors have an underlying cause of obesity. Other factors such as stress, alcohol, diet and nutrition also play a part in the phenomenon.
There is an obesity epidemic among Americans of every race in which most are dramatically bigger than our ancestors. It is even more pronounced within the African-American community with 60 percent of men and 78 percent of women being identified as overweight. Unfortunately, there is also a level of acceptance in being overweight in the black community. It is usually referred to as being “thick” and considered attractive. Being slender is often ridiculed as “having no body.” Yet, many fail to realize that with every 10 pounds overweight, there is an increase in blood pressure. So with the “thickness” often comes hypertension. Hypertension is the number one cause of congestive heart failure, and stroke.
The high fat content of southern styled cuisine and fast food also contribute to hypercholesterolemia within the black community. High cholesterol results in atherosclerosis which is hardening and plaque buildup in the coronary arteries. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol; HDL and LDL. LDL, or low density lipoprotein is considered the bad protein. It is responsible for transporting cholesterol and fats to the body but unfortunately when in excess, it remains and contributes to the formation of plaque. High fat diets contribute to these excesses.
The final contributor is physical inactivity which is an effective strategy for weight and pressure control. Studies have shown that 35 percent of blacks have reported leisure time inactivity. In order to decrease the demand on the heart and maintain an adequate weight, you have to move. It doesn’t matter how you move, just do it. Whether or not it is walking, running, dancing, or power-shopping, you have to exercise. It doesn’t require expensive gym memberships or a personal trainer. Failure to exercise increases the pressure of the heart unnecessarily as weight increases and successively resting heart rates.
As heart disease continues to be the number one killer of Americans in the western world, it behooves us all to decrease modifiable risk factors, regardless of our race. Most of the contributing factors have very little to do with adequate health-care and research and much to do with the lack of life style interventions.