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Take Care of Your Heart this Valentine's Day

Female nurse with senior male patient

Learn how the CDC is working with communities across the country to help raise awareness of heart health, particularly among higher-risk populations.

Are you taking care of your heart? This Valentine’s Day—a time of heart-shaped valentines and boxes of chocolate—is a great time to think about heart health.

Sadly, many hearts, particularly among African Americans, are not as strong and healthy as they should be. High blood pressure is the leading cause for heart disease, especially among African Americans. Almost 70% of people who have a first heart attack, 77% of people who have a first stroke, and 74% of people with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. While the problem is universal (one in three U.S. adults has high blood pressure), it is estimated that over 40% of African American adults—nearly one in two—have some sort of heart or vascular disease including hypertension. This is more than the combined populations of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Jose, Indianapolis, Detroit, Memphis, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Oakland.

“African American adults are 1.4 times as likely as Caucasians to be overweight or obese, and they often have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. These medical conditions increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States” says Leonard Jack, Jr., PhD, MSc, Director of the Division of Community Health (DCH) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There are things we can do to turn around the trend and DCH is committed to helping communities create positive changes like making places for disease management accessible to all.”

Photo: Older couple playing tennis

The Need for Preventive Action

African Americans are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure than are non-Hispanics Whites, but they are less likely to have these conditions under control. CDC is working closely with communities across the country to help raise awareness of heart health, particularly among higher-risk populations. Through CDC-funded programs like Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) and the Community Transformation Grant (CTG) Program, more people have increased access to healthier foods, places for physical activity, and management support for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. For example, in the West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert and South Los Angeles area of California, REACH awardees are working to provide at least 43,000 residents with increased access to obesity- and hypertension-related preventive services and screening. These health services will be provided at three Federally Qualified Health Centers and School-based Health Centers.

The CTG program complements REACH’s efforts, connecting healthcare systems and community resources in neighborhoods across the country to increase access to prevention and disease management services. It is estimated that one in three Americans will benefit from this work. Of the CTG community awardees:

  • 97% are using clinical and community preventive services to help control chronic diseases, including hypertension and diabetes.
  • 86% have focused their activities on high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
  • 60% are connecting members of their community with preventive healthcare resources.

For example, the YMCA of Greater Louisville is encouraging African Americans and low-income residents to participate in self-management programs. In Nebraska, the Douglas County Health Department is placing clinical pharmacists in Federally Qualified Health Centers. This collaboration between primary care providers and pharmacists makes it easier for high-risk individuals to get the medications they need to manage heart disease and high blood pressure.

The REACH and CTG programs are key examples of how the overarching goals and objectives of the Million Hearts® initiative are implemented at the local level.

The Million Hearts® initiative

Million Hearts® is a national initiative, launched in 2011, co-led by CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The initiative focuses the efforts of HHS agencies, states, regions, communities and individuals on a common goal—preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

Million Hearts® encourages all Americans to know their ABCS when it comes to their heart health. You can reduce our risk of heart attacks and strokes by taking the following actions:

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

Maintaining a healthy weight, making physical activity part of your daily routine also can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Follow your heart! Take these steps to help learn more about your heart health: