As the spring approaches, many women consider dieting for aesthetic purposes but the new season could also usher in greater concern and care about overall health, particularly exams for cardiovascular fitness. Working to raise awareness regarding this vital area of health care, The Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health has launched a major initiative to improve the cardiovascular health of African-American and Afro-Caribbean women in Brooklyn, NY. The initiative, Heart of a Woman, is a central component of the Institute's community-based health programming in 2011 and is supported by a leadership grant of $190,000 from the Empire BlueCross BlueShield Foundation.
Carried out in partnership with customers and stylists in eight hair salons, Heart of a Woman will increase awareness of Black women's risk of cardiovascular disease and how even simple changes in diet and exercise can reduce their risk. Heart of a Woman will train salon stylists to serve as lay health advocates for their customers, offering fact-based information about heart health and encouragement. The program will target the communities of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, East Flatbush and Flatbush.
"Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of American women – and African-American women are at greater risk than any other ethnic group," said Mark Wagar, president and CEO, Empire BlueCross BlueShield. "The Arthur Ashe Institute is taking a highly innovative, people-to-people approach to help spread the word to women, so they can better protect themselves against the ravages of heart disease."
In previous salon-based cardiovascular programs, the Institute found that 80 percent of salon customers did not identify red meats and fried foods as sources of cholesterol and 46 percent could not suggest increased exercise or ways to reduce cardiovascular health risks.
Dr. Rhonda Medows, a chief medical officer and executive vice president for UnitedHealth Group says: "Heart disease is a critical public health issue for Americans and our health care system. Prevention and early intervention are essential to avoiding more serious health conditions and protecting your health at all stages of life." However, Dr. Elisabeth von der Lohe, cardiologist and director of the Women's Heart Program, Indiana University Health gets even more specific. She explains, "African-Americans are more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease or stroke than Caucasian women and African-American women are at highest risk of death from heart disease among all racial, ethnic and gender groups. The most important reason for this racial difference is the fact that African American women have higher rates of many risk factors for heart disease, including obesity, physical inactivity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and hypertension compared to Caucasian women. However, unknown biological differences may also play a role. Among women of various racial and ethnic groups, African-American women are less aware that smoking, high cholesterol and family history increase their risk of cardiovascular disease."
Dr. Irmina Gradus-Pizlo, cardiologist, Indiana University Health adds, "African- Americans are at least 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than Caucasians. The likely cause of this discrepancy is a 50 percent higher prevalence of hypertension in African-Americans and a lower likelihood of controlled blood pressure. African-American women can lower their risk of hypertension by promoting healthy dietary choices, with an emphasis on low salt and low fat in their families."
With such statistics, the Arthur Ashe Institute seems to have selected a key issue to bring forward to the attention of the target demographic. The Institute was founded in 1992 by tennis champion and humanitarian Arthur Ashe in response to the need for better access to healthcare in minority urban communities. The Institute has built a substantial reputation for its ability to bring current health information into Brooklyn communities using culturally tailored curricula that address health concerns that disproportionately affect minority populations, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS.
Folloe Lauren on Twitter @mediaempress.