Hypertension, commonly referred to as the "silent killer," is one of the most common cardiovascular diseases. It can be very damaging to your heart and blood vessels and eventually leads to stroke, heart failure, heart attack, kidney failure and vision problems.
According to the CDC, it affects 65 million adults in the U.S., and studies have shown that African Americans tend to have an earlier onset and higher prevalence of the disease than non-Hispanic whites. Other groups who are shown to have a higher prevalence for the disease are adults with lower family income, lower education, public health insurance, diabetes, obesity, and/or a disability.
These findings suggest that hypertension is not solely a race disparity, but also a social disparity.
A study done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health called “Exploring Health Disparities in Integrated Communities” (EHDIC) discovered that nearly 31 percent of the hypertension disparity between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites is due to environmental factors.
“Careful review of psychosocial factors, stress, coping strategies, discrimination and other personality characteristics could play a large role in reducing or eliminating the disparity," says Roland James Thorpe Jr., PhD, lead author of the study.
The CDC suggests that the best way to approach the hypertension problem is to change the systems already in place and seek out a better way to prevent and control its prevalence. They believe that individual interventions would not be as effective as a look and re-evaluation into the bigger picture: the healthcare system itself.
Recommended Actions to Reduce Health Disparities
The CDC recommends several steps to reduce health disparities:
1. Increase community awareness of disparities as persistent problems that represent some of the most pressing health challenges in the U.S.
2. Set priorities among disparities to be addressed at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels
3. Articulate valid reasons to expend resources to reduce and ultimately eliminate priority
4. Implement the dual strategy of universal and targeted intervention strategies based on lessons learned from successes in reducing certain disparities (e.g., the virtual elimination of disparities in certain vaccination rates among children).
5. Aim to achieve a faster rate of improvement among vulnerable groups by allocating resources in proportion to need and a demonstrating a commitment to closing gaps in health, longevity, and quality of life.
As we begin to explore health disparities in more depth, you’ll notice a trend: the marginalized segments of society to have a higher prevalence for health conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. It is in non-affluent neighborhoods and low-income residential areas where people do not have access to good nutrition – to fresh produce or even to a grocery store in general. If they want to be economical and resourceful, then they will opt out of traveling five miles to the grocery store to prepare food at home and instead choose the McDonalds or Taco Bell around the corner: fast, cheap and delicious.
This is why the solution to the problem has to adopt a multi-faceted approach. It has to include education about and advocacy of good nutrition; access to better healthcare; access to fresh foods and produce; and the agreement of physicians to arm their patients with knowledge and materials to prevent diseases like hypertension.
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