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Monday, February 20, 2023

Black adult cardiovascular health is affected by close relationships.


This research among black adults in Georgia reveals that feeling a part of the community and interacting with neighbors may significantly improve diet, exercise habits, and weight control. Moreover, fewer heart attacks and strokes, two of the main causes of disability and mortality, may result from improved cardiovascular health.

According to Dr. Dhruv Kazi, associate director of the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Center for Outcomes Research in Cardiology and director of the cardiac critical care unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), "there are a variety of interactions within the community that can improve one's cardiovascular health, not to mention the effect on mental health—the sense of belonging, of being seen—which is tightly related to cardiovascular outcomes in the long run."


He continues, "Another way to say it is that these particular elements of community resilience may directly influence nutrition, activity, weight, and mental well-being, all of which lead to improved cardiovascular health."

A favorable viewpoint on health in African communities
The latest study is a component of the Morehouse-Emory Cardiovascular Center for Health Equity (MECA) investigation that is now being conducted in Atlanta. MECA expands on earlier studies showing that having a cardiac disease or dying from it is more common in underprivileged communities. However, the new study fills a gap in previous research, which focused on undesirable characteristics of black areas that may contribute to poor cardiovascular health. It focuses on advantageous neighborhood characteristics, particularly interpersonal relationships, which might support excellent cardiovascular health despite greater risks associated with racial or socioeconomic status.

Dr. Fidencio Saldana, dean for students at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician in medicine and cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), explains that researchers typically focus on factors that cause health disparities on the negative side, such as deaths or co-existing diseases, or that increase rates of a specific disease. His research interests include racial disparities and outcomes in cardiovascular disease. It's pretty unusual to be able to look for solutions or consider how to emulate these beneficial characteristics of communities.

Assessment of the social context and cardiovascular health
392 black adults in the Atlanta area, ranging in age from 30 to 70, were involved in the study. None of them had a cardiovascular condition already. Men made up about 4 out of 10 participants.

The social environment is made up of opinions about one's neighbors, any available support systems, and how frequently neighbors interact. Participants provided information on seven neighborhood characteristics, including appearance, the ease of getting around by foot, the availability of wholesome foods, safety, social cohesion, neighborly interaction, and violence.

The American Heart Association's Life's Simple Seven (LS7) scores, which are used to gauge optimum cardiovascular health, were used to gauge heart health. Seven factors that affect cardiovascular health are taken into account by LS7, including self-reported diet, exercise, and smoking history as well as measured blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI). Also, researchers acquired data on yearly income, education, marital status, employment status, and physical examinations, including blood tests.

What have the scientists found?
After adjusting for variables that could distort results, researchers discovered that participants who reported higher levels of social interaction and neighborly activities were roughly twice as likely to obtain excellent LS7 scores. Compared to men, black women have a higher affinity for the term.

Dr. Kazi asserts that "our health is more directly tied to these social networks than we realize" and that efforts to fight smoking and obesity, for example, are more likely to be successful "when shared by neighbors."

According to him, the more interaction we have with our local communities and neighbors, the better it is likely to be for our cardiovascular health.

Since the study was observational, causation and effect cannot be established. According to Dr. Kazi, it's also plausible that people who are already healthier are more likely to interact with their neighbors. The fact that everyone who participated lived in the same metropolitan region and that neighborhood features was self-reported are two other drawbacks. The "missing piece" in LS7 scores, according to Dr. Kazi, is mental health. This is a crucial area that was not thoroughly investigated.

According to him, living in a neighborhood where you feel comfortable, know your neighbors, and are a part of the community is crucial for both your mental and physical health. If anything, the health advantages of feeling like a cohesive neighborhood member are understated by this study.

What are some key takeaways from this research?
The social environment and feeling a part of a community are important for health and may even work to mitigate risk factors. Yet, gentrification's consequences and a sustained lack of investment pose a threat to numerous black areas in US cities.

Dr. Kazi continues, "When an area is gentrified and long-time inhabitants are compelled to leave, the community is gone forever. " Simply providing alternative housing for the departing residents will not compensate for what has been lost."In the future, we must be aware of the importance of community and make investments in our communities so that residents can safely participate in communal and physical activities."

Doctor Saldana concurs. "Some communities cannot benefit from those advantages under our system." "It's crucial to focus on our communities' strengths and, as a system, to promote those strengths in other communities."

Photo by NATASHA LOIS
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