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Aug 21, 2015

Economic and Social Forces Have Big Impact on Heart Health

The American Heart Association has issued a scientific statement addressing social factors that influence risk for heart disease.

Biology isn’t the only reason heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to a recent scientific statement about the impact of economic and social factors on cardiovascular risk.

Released by the American Heart Association, this statement was created in response to concerns about Americans having the worst health among high-income countries. Although we’ve come a long way in the prevention and treatment of heart disease, not all Americans benefit equally from these advancements. This statement was designed to increase awareness about the influence of social factors on cardiovascular health and provide recommendations to address these issues.

So what are the social factors that impact cardiovascular health? First, authors explain the importance of socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status typically includes factors like income, education, and employment. Together these factors can have a big impact on health and risk for chronic disease. Research continues to show that low levels of education and income are associated with increased risk for heart disease. An individual’s employment status or occupation can also have an impact on heart health, as higher status occupations may be associated with better health.

Authors also highlight the importance of social factors such as race and ethnicity, social support, culture and language, access to care and residential environment. These factors are extremely influential when it comes to risk for heart disease and overall mortality. For example, if an individual lives in a dangerous area, they may not feel safe exercising outside, which has a direct impact on overall health. Also, access to consistent and affordable healthcare is a challenge for many Americans, especially in low-income areas.

As a result, authors encourage future research on social factors that influence health outcomes. The more we understand about the factors that impact our health, the more we can do to address them. Authors also explain that interventions and policies are needed to provide education, health care and support to those who need it. While we have the tools to reduce cardiovascular risk, we need to ensure that resources are distributed appropriately among all populations.

Questions for You to Consider

  • 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.
  • Am I at risk for heart disease?
  • To estimate a patient’s risk for heart disease, doctors take into account a number of factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol, and family history. Using this information, doctors can estimate whether a patient is considered to be at low, medium or high risk for heart disease. Online tools are also available to help patients estimate their risk for heart disease.

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