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Aug 19, 2014

Heart Disease Trends Vary by Race and Gender

Women and African-Americans hit hardest by traditional risk factors for heart disease, finds study.

Women and African-Americans are hit hardest by traditional risk factors for heart disease, according to a recent study analyzing heart disease trends from the 1980s and '90s.

Using data from the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) Study, researchers tracked how traditional cardiovascular risk factors have contributed to heart disease in the past few decades. Although well-established risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and smoking, have been proven to cause heart disease, they can also be controlled through lifestyle changes and medication. The question is how well have we addressed these risk factors in recent years to help Americans prevent heart disease?

After analyzing trends, researchers found that overall, traditional risk factors were less to blame for heart disease in the 1980s compared to the 1990s. Most likely, this means that Americans were able to address these well-established risk factors in the '90s more effectively than in the past.

The problem is that traditional risk factors still cause heart disease in certain groups more than others. Researchers found that traditional risk factors continue to put women and African-Americans at significantly increased risk for heart disease compared to men and white adults. Hypertension and diabetes are more likely to cause heart disease in women and African-Americans and these differences became even more pronounced between the 1980s-'90s.

Based on these findings, authors stress the importance of prevention strategies, especially in groups at greater risk for heart disease. As traditional risk factors are more effectively managed in certain groups, the gaps in risk management grow by race and gender. Managing key risk factors for heart disease is key to both preventing heart disease and eliminating health disparities related to heart health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are the traditional risk factors for heart disease?
  • Through decades of research, we’ve learned that certain factors increase risk for heart disease—some of which we can control and a few of which we can’t. Modifiable risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity and poor diet. Risk factors that we can’t control include age, gender, race or ethnicity and family history of heart disease. It’s important to address risk factors that we can control to help prevent heart disease.
  • What are health disparities?
  • Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes or burdens of disease between groups of people. Health disparities can exist between different populations of race, sex, income, or even geographic location. In health care, the goal is to eliminate these differences so all individuals have the same ability to achieve good health.

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