Monday, April 2, 2012

A close look at the nation’s health disparities

Today’s National Public Health Week guest blog is by Janet Wright, MD, executive director of the Million Hearts ( initiative.

Continuing our discussion about the Million Hearts™ initiative from February, we wanted to focus on racial and ethnic health disparities and improving blood pressure control.  In recent years, the United States has made important progress in improving health and reducing disparities, but we recognize that disparities persist.  

Reducing disparities in heart disease and stroke among racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African-Americans,  is the right thing to do for our citizens and is essential if we are  to meet the goal of the Million Hearts initiative—to  prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of the difference in black-white mortality; African Americans have the highest death rate for heart disease and stroke;  and these deaths occur at younger ages.

Key components of Million Hearts include community prevention— reducing the number of people who need treatment—and clinical prevention— optimizing care for those who do. Community prevention means improving access, outreach, and communication related to the ABCS (Aspirin for those who need it, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management,  and Smoking cessation), decreasing smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, improving nutrition (lowering  sodium and artificial trans fat intake), increasing physical activity, and offering community support for blood pressure control. CDC’s Community Transformation Grants are an important part of ensuring that those who need these community supports will get them. On the clinical side, Million Heats is focusing on the ABCS through a uniform and simple set of measures that are aligned with incentives, fully deploying HIT to report and improve ABCS performance, and promoting innovative care delivery models that use teams and performance-based reimbursement to improve adherence and cardiovascular health. 

We are excited about our plans to focus on blood pressure control starting in May—which is National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, National Stroke Awareness Month, and National Older Americans Month. We are working with healthcare practitioners, pharmacists, voluntary organizations, and health systems to host events where people can get their blood pressure checked and receive referrals for any necessary follow-up.  These events will emphasize strategies  for taking medications routinely and effectively. We will make sure APHA members know how they can get involved in May.

Million Hearts is supported by multiple federal agencies and key private organizations. Collectively, these partnerships leverage and advance investments in cardiovascular disease prevention. I hope you will join us in achieving this important national goal—particularly addressing  these racial and ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease.  Protect yourself and your loved ones by understanding your risks and taking action. Take the Million Hearts pledge today at

Janet Wright, M.D.
Executive Director, Million Hearts

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