Heart disease and stroke remain the number one cause of death in our country. According to the American Heart Association, you’re even more likely to die of heart disease if you’re black.
February is Black History Month, but it’s also Heart Health Month, which is why we met with Dr. Andre Churchwell, Vanderbilt cardiologist and chief diversity officer. He says Nashville still has a long way to go when it comes to addressing health disparities that exist when comparing white and black residents in the city.
"You’re less likely to be brought to the emergency room. And the time to get to you is much longer than if it happened in a white population, in a white part of town. It’s kind of striking isn’t it?" said Churchwell, seated in his office at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, with his walls covered in articles and tributes to prominent African-Americans like Dr. Levi Watkins and Vivien Thomas, who made incredible contributions in the heart health industry.
Churchwell says Nashville, and our country as a whole, will never reach their full economic potential if health benefits are not perceived to be available to all Americans.
"Health disparities have to be addressed on a moral basis, but if you really need to think of it as a business investment, I really don’t mind, all I want is to see is health disparities diminished and treated and eradicated," he said.
According to the American Heart Association, black Americans are more likely to be have high blood pressure and diabetes and are more likely to be obese than white Americans. Each of these factors contributes to heart disease, the leading cause of death in America.
Churchwell said there’s a few reasons the black community is more likely to suffer.
"We’re staying at home with our heart disease and letting it get to a severe stage before we are finally brought by our family to the emergency room because we don’t trust the medical system," he said.
He says many people who suffer are skipping the doctor because they don’t have the money, choosing to feed their family instead of treating their high blood pressure and heart disease. There’s also the suggestion that there’s limited access to healthy foods in low-income communities and a lack of safe parks to exercise or the inability to afford transportation to access these things.
So what can be done about it?
Churchwell said they’ve seen great success in treating heart disease by bringing health clinics into low-income areas. The American Heart Association is working with other community organizations to improve messaging, hoping to build trust between the healthcare industry and the African-American community.