February a month to celebrate Black History and Heart Health

As many of us know February is Black History Month, a time for us as a nation to reflect on the unique history, culture and contributions of the African American community.

While I consider Black History Month to be a noble and relevant educational endeavor, it is truly the present day chronic health crisis affecting African Americans, especially cardio-vascular disease, that I am most concerned about.

The statistics are startling. According to the American Heart Association, nearly four in 10 African Americans have some form of CVD, which is an umbrella term for diseases of the heart and circulatory system, including strokes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, congenital heart defects and hardening of the arteries.

A government study in 2010 showed considerably higher annual death rates among African Americans ages 64 and under, compared to their white counterparts.

An estimated 107,000 American blacks will die this year from complications of CVD, making it by far the number one cause of death among African American adults.

Despite these grim numbers, there is hope. Improved community educational outreach and co-operation between governmental and non-profit health agencies are possible solutions to remedy these health disparities. Health education is often a precursor to preventative care and behavioral lifestyle change.

Ending health disparities is something we all, regardless of race or background, should be concerned about.

The Milken Institute estimates that the total economic cost of chronic diseases to the U.S. economy was more than a trillion dollars in 2003. Clearly if any group in our nation suffers, we all suffer.

We must not see this as an African American health problem, but as a U.S. public health problem.

I urge everyone regardless of ethnic background to know the risks regarding CVD. The PAWS Center, located on the first floor of the University Health Services building, provides students with the opportunity to speak with a professional health educator free of charge.