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The Center for Disease Control’s recent “Working to Improve the Health of Black Communities: Addressing Disparities in Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease” event provided valuable information on preventing and maintaining these dangerous but controllable medical conditions disproportionately affecting the Black Community.

Dr. Christopher Holliday, the director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, and Dr. Janet Wright, the director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, shared statistics representing how widespread and dangerous these conditions are, how people can take control of their health, and answered questions from guests attending the Feb. 21 event.

Diabetes statistics

According to Holiday, 38 million people in America have diabetes and 98 million have pre-diabetes. It is also the eighth leading cause of death in the US.

More than 12% of Black adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, and research has found that more than 40% of Black adults have pre-diabetes – a rate higher than that of Asian, Hispanic, and white adults. These higher numbers are not a coincidence, according to Holliday.

“Research shows that centuries of racism have a profound and negative impact on health outcomes, including the prevalence of diabetes. Racial and ethnic minority communities often experience inequities in social and economic factors, such as housing, education and employment. Where a person works, lives, learns, worships and plays can play a significant effect on a person’s health,” Holliday said.

Holliday cited living far from a medical professional, not being able to afford proper medication or not having access to healthy food as examples of environmental factors that make diabetes prevention and treatment more challenging.

While there are obstacles, Holliday also shared ways to prevent diabetes and take control of your health.

Take control of diabetes

“The good news, though, is that diabetes can be prevented or delayed by just taking small, simple steps. By eating a better diet and moving more, you can prevent type 2 diabetes, and you can join one of the National Diabetes Prevention Programs,” Holliday said.

The CDC’s Diabetes Prevention Program connects members with a lifestyle coach who gives them one-on-one help creating a healthy lifestyle to prevent diabetes. The CDC also works with community leaders and organizations to speak to the needs of the Black Community.

“For example, we know that churches have a proven impact in Black communities. We’re working with partners to develop materials tailored for churches and Black communities that will help people participate in diabetes education and awareness,” Holliday said.

Taking control starts with speaking to a health care provider and learning your current health status, according to Holliday. He also recommends visiting www.doIhaveprediabetes.org to take a quick five-minute test to learn where you stand. Holliday said that once you are aware of your health, you are more likely to take the necessary steps to improve it.

The cardiovascular facts

Wright provided research findings on cardiovascular disease, another health condition disproportionately affecting African Americans, and gave steps for prevention and treatment.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all forms of heart disease and stroke. In the U.S., Wright shared that heart disease kills one person every 33 seconds, more than any other condition, and stroke is the fifth leading cause of death.

High blood pressure, which affects almost half of Americans, is a significant cause of heart disease and stroke, both of which are more prevalent in the Black community.

“What keeps me up at night is the rising rate of deaths from high blood pressure in Black adults in the age group 35 to 64 years. Folks in this age group are the nation’s workforce, the engine of the economy, and they’re the hearts of their communities,” Wright said.

Black people are more likely to have high blood pressure and develop it at a younger age than white Americans, according to Wright. She also explained that uncontrolled blood pressure can then lead to heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.

Black women are 60% more likely than white women to have high blood pressure, according to Wright. These problems become more inflated during pregnancy. Uncontrolled and undetected high blood pressure during pregnancy leads to a lifetime risk of early-onset CVD in the mother and the baby.

Preventing cardiovascular disease

To prevent these conditions from developing, Wright says you should structure your plan around your age, and, like diabetes, talk to your health care provider to understand your health.

Wright says children and teens should focus on physical activity, getting enough fruits and vegetables, and eating a lower-fat diet to help prevent CVD. Maintaining regular health checkups to detect any causes of heart disease and stroke at a young age is also important.

For young adults, Wright says it is important to start checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels because these problems are seen at a younger age.

While it seems like this is a lot to manage, small, actionable steps can make a big difference.

“No matter where you are in your journey, you can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke by making small changes, and you can get started right now,” said Wright while talking about “Live to the Beat,” a national CVD disease prevention campaign developed for Black communities. “The campaign’s resources are designed to help empower individuals to create their own heart health journey, recognizing that everyone’s journey is unique.”

Contact Racial Justice Reporter Garrett Simms at 317-762-7847

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