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African American History Month!

Family eating dinnerLearn about some of the leading examples of health disparities among Africa Americans, learn more about the Million Hearts initiative, and link to information and activities that address the health and well-being of African American populations in the United States.

February is African American History Month!

To commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent, American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week. The first celebration occurred on Feb. 12, 1926. In 1976, as part of the nation's bicentennial, the week was expanded into Black History Month.

This year's theme is, "Civil Rights in America", as 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal.

Despite great improvements in the overall health of the nation, health disparities remain widespread among members of racial and ethnic minority populations. Structural inequalities -- from disparities in education and health care to the vicious cycle of poverty -- still pose enormous hurdles for black communities across America. The health disparities affecting African Americans are striking and are apparent in life expectancy, death rates, infant mortality, and other measures of health status. Every year, heart disease takes the lives of over half a million Americans, and it remains the leading cause of death in the United States. African Americans have the largest age-adjusted death rates due to heart disease and stroke.

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US Census Bureau, Facts for Features:

Our Documents.gov, Civil Rights Act (1964)

White House Presidential Proclamations:

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Million Hearts

Every year, Americans suffer more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes.

Every day, 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease—that's nearly 800,000 Americans each year, or 1 in every 3 deaths.

Together, heart disease and stroke are among the most widespread and costly health problems facing the nation today, accounting for more than $312.6 billion in health care expenditures and lost productivity annually—and these costs are rising. On a personal level, families who experience heart disease or stroke not only have to deal with medical bills but also lost wages and the real potential of a decreased standard of living.

We're all at risk for heart disease and stroke. People of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities are affected. However, certain groups —including African Americans and older individuals are at higher risk than others.

Nearly 44% of African American men and 48% of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.

African American adults are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension), and heart attack and stroke deaths than white adults. Individuals living below the federal poverty level are more likely to have high blood pressure compared with those living at the highest level of income.

Photo: Follow the ABCS

Follow the ABCS

You can reduce your risk and improve your heart health by following the ABCS:

  • A: Take aspirin as directed by your health care provider.
  • B: Control your blood pressure.
  • C: Manage your cholesterol.
  • S: Don't smoke.

Million Hearts™ initiative is a national public-private partnership that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017 by using clinical and community prevention to improve the ABCS.

Blood Pressure

What do I need to know about high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke in the United States. About 2 out of every 5 African American adults have high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control.

How is blood pressure measured?
Two numbers (e.g., 140/90) help determine blood pressure. The first number measures systolic pressure, which is the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats. The second number measures diastolic pressure, which is the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart rests between beats. If the first number is 140 or higher, or the second number is 90 or higher then you have high blood pressure and should talk to your health care provider.

When and how should I check my blood pressure readings?
Check your blood pressure readings on a regular basis, even if you feel fine. Generally, people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. You can check your blood pressure readings at home, at a pharmacy, and at a doctor's office.

How can I control my blood pressure?
Make control your goal! Work with your health care provider to make a plan for controlling your blood pressure. Be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Eat a healthy diet.
    Choose foods low in sodium (salt). Most Americans consume more sodium than recommended. Everyone aged 2 years and older should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. African Americans as well as adults aged 51 years and older and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease should consume only 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
  • Get moving.
    Staying physically active will help you control your weight and strengthen your heart. Try walking for 10 minutes, 3 times a day, at least 5 days a week.
  • Take your medications.
    If you have high blood pressure, your health care provider may give you medicine to help control it. It's important to follow your doctor's instructions when taking the medication. Tell your health care provider if the medicine makes you feel bad. Your doctor can show you different ways to reduce side effects or recommend another medicine that may have fewer side effects.

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Achieve your Health Goals

Your doctor is not the only health care provider that can help you follow the ABCS.
Nurses, pharmacists, community health workers, health coaches, and other providers can work with you and your doctor to help you achieve your health goals. Don't be afraid to ask questions like these:

  • What is my risk for heart disease? Should I take an aspirin every day to reduce my risk?
  • What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me, and what should I do about it?
  • What are my cholesterol numbers? What can I do to lower my bad cholesterol if it's too high?
  • What kinds of support are available to help me quit smoking?

Vital Signs

The CDC recently published a Vital Signs article outlining the burden of heart disease and stroke and actions to prevent these illnesses by health care systems, providers, insurers, the federal government, health departments, community organizations, and individuals.

See the article for specific actions at:
CDC Vital Signs: Preventable Deaths from Heart Disease & Stroke
Improving care can save more lives,
September 2013

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For additional information, see the following links:

For more information, visit the following CDC and DHHS Web sites:

CDC Public Health Grand Rounds
Preventing 1 Million Heart Attacks & Strokes by 2017: The Million Hearts Initiative

CDC Features

HHS Million Hearts

Image: CHDIR 2013

CDC Health Disparities & Inequalities Report (CHDIR)

The CDC Health Disparities & Inequalities Report - United States, 2013 (CHDIR) is important for encouraging action and facilitating accountability to reduce modifiable disparities by using interventions that are effective and scalable. The report also underscores the need for more consistent data on population characteristics that have often been lacking in health surveys such as disability status and sexual orientation.

For examples of some important health disparities affecting the African American population reported in the CHDIR, see the Black or African American Populations web page.

More Information

More Information

CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (OMHHE)

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CDC

US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)

Office of Minority Health (OMH)

Other Federal Government

Other Resources

  • Page last reviewed: February 10, 2014
  • Page last updated: February 10, 2014
  • Content source:
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