42: Jackie Robinson Is Still a Touchstone

It’s hardly fair to ask “Number 42” to level the playing field once again. Yet almost 42 years after his untimely death, Jackie Robinson’s iconic status can still change society for the better.

His story can focus more attention on diabetes-related heart disease, which claimed the six-time World Series player at 53. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, taking about 1 million lives annually.

Jackie Robinson’s grit and refusal to lose in the face of enormous odds are ample inspiration for wellness advocates to raise health awareness and spur improvements in care. The Hall of Famer has already been a catalyst for change in baseball and civil rights. Let’s hope that his story will inspire change in heart disease and diabetes rates too.

More than 70 million Americans now live with some form of heart disease, even if they are physically fit. Furthermore, African-Americans are at higher risk due to the high prevalence of the most common contributing factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between the risk for heart disease and the risk for stroke. The rate of first strokes in African-Americans is almost double that of Caucasians, and strokes tend to occur earlier in life.

Know Your Risk Factors

High blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is often considered a silent killer because it can permanently damage the heart before symptoms are even noticed. African-Americans have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure in the world. It develops earlier in life, and tends to be more severe than in Caucasians. Research suggests that this may be related to a gene that causes African-Americans to be more sensitive to salt, making treatment with certain anti-hypertensive medications more likely to successfully lower blood pressure.

High cholesterol. Recently, scientists found that high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad cholesterol”) in African-American men were partly due to genetic differences but lifestyle choices also play a role.

Diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without it. Non-Hispanic African-Americans are 77 percent more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Early warning signs can easily be missed, leading to more significant complications. Simple blood tests can make the diagnosis. Diabetes can be controlled through lifestyle changes like healthy eating and regular exercise.

Obesity. Among African-Americans age 20 and older, 63 percent of men and 77 percent of women are overweight or obese. Too much fat, especially carried around the waist, puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

You have the power to change most of the risk for heart disease–about 75 to 80 percent. There are simple ways to prevent heart disease or reduce the chance of it t. A risk-assessment is critical to take steps toward maintaining good heart health. Early identification is key, so speak with your physician today.

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