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CHW Health Disparities Initiative

About Health Disparities

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a broad term to describe a range of diseases that might affect your heart:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
  • Heart infections
  • Heart attack (infarction)
  • Chest pain (angina)

Despite notable improvements in the overall health of the United States during the past two decades, there continues to be striking disparities in the burden of illness and death experienced by African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

For example:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, accounting for 32.3 percent of all deaths in 2009 and affecting some minorities more than others.1 In 2009, the overall rate of death due to heart disease was 236.1 per 100,000 deaths. The rates were 281.4 for white males, compared with 387.0 for African American males.1 In addition, avoidable deaths disproportionately occur among non-Hispanic blacks and residents of the South. For example, avoidable deaths are particularly high among black males; in 2010, the black male rate was approximately 80% higher than that of white males and black females.2
  • The prevalence of asthma has increased in the general population over the past two decades, disproportionately impacting minorities.3 Asthma prevalence among children is highest for African American and Puerto Rican children. Moreover, rates of adverse outcomes are substantially higher among African American children.4

Why Do Health Disparities Exist?

Disparities exist in nearly every aspect of health, including quality of health care, access to care, utilization of health care, and health outcomes. These disparities are believed to be the result of the complex interaction among genetic variations, environmental factors, and specific health behaviors. Disparities in health care persist even when the data are controlled for gender, condition, age, and socio-economic status.

A health care workforce that reflects the diversity of patients and provides culturally competent care can contribute to reducing these disparities.5 Community health workers (CHWs) play a unique role in implementing culturally competent health promotion and disease prevention programs.

Working to Reduce Health Disparities

The Community Health Worker Health Disparities Initiative is one approach to addressing health disparities in minority and underserved communities. CHWs deliver heart health messages and teach skills and behaviors that can help community members stay healthy so they can enjoy their lives and raise their families.

Want to know more about the Initiative and how it works? Read about it in the CHW Health Disparities Initiative.

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1 Go, A. S., Mozaffarian, D., Roger, V. L., Benjamin, E. J., Berry, J. D., Borden, W. B.,…Turner, M. B. (2013). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2013 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 127, e6-e245.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Vital Signs: Avoidable Deaths from Heart Disease, Stroke, and Hypertensive Disease – United States, 2001-2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(35), 721-727.

3 Office of Minority Health. (2012). Asthma data/statistics. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

4 Akinbami, L. J. (2006). The state of childhood asthma, United States, 1980-2005. Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics, 381, 1-24.

5 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2012). National healthcare disparities report 2012 (AHRQ Publication No. 13-0003). Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last Updated: June 2014