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The Minority Report on Heart Health

Studies show that heart disease is the leading cause of death for people across many ethnic groups. A closer look at the numbers shows that minority groups can have other challenges when it comes to heart health.

For example, African Americans' chance of heart failure before age 50 is 20 times higher than it is for Caucasian Americans in the same age group. They are also more likely to have heart disease at any age.

What's more, high blood pressure affects more African Americans than other ethnic groups – 43% of men and 46% of women, compared to 34% of men and 31% of women for non-Hispanic whites.

Among the risk factors for heart disease, 2 that can be controlled are obesity and physical inactivity. They are also most common in minorities. For example, Mexican Americans and African Americans have the highest rates of obesity, while Mexican Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans have the lowest measured physical activity of any group.*

All these figures point to a need for improving the health for American minorities.

One group that's addressing health issues that affect the Asian community specifically is the Asian Health Coalition (AHC). Based in Chicago, the AHC builds strong and innovative health programs for Asian Americans.

"Asian Americans residing in the city of Chicago are the only racial and ethnic group to have both heart disease and diabetes in the top 4 leading causes of death," says Edwin Chandrasekar, executive director of the AHC.

"Traditional approaches to health education and chronic disease management are not effective when applied to the Asian immigrant and refugee population."
Instead, the AHC is helping to improve heart health by making these suggestions:

  • Reduce salt in cooking
    The average Asian diet includes a large amount of salt, both in store-bought food and in traditional cooking. But understanding the amount of sodium in food and limiting its use can help improve heart health.
  • Increase physical activity
    In the past, people walked where they needed to go, so getting the right amount of exercise was not a problem. Today, this is not the case. With so few minorities meeting the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines*, increasing physical activity is a key part of preventive care.
  • Promote health and wellness across the generations
    Asian Americans under the age of 50 are more active than older generations. With this in mind, one of the AHC's goals is to get the younger generation to talk to their parents and grandparents and encourage them to take steps to improve their health and well-being.

Check out how the AHC is helping to improve health and wellness in the Asian community and learn more about how your heart health is affected by your genes.  

*According to the 2008 Federal Physical Activity Guidelines for adults, 14% of Mexican Americans, 17% of African American and 18% of Asian Americans have met these requirements.

Sources:  American Heart Association, medscape.org and asianhealth.org

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