What nurses can do to promote heart health in the African American community

Nurse assisting a male African American patient.

-By Susan Grinslade, PhD, RN, PHCNS-BC, UB School of Nursing clinical professor and UB Community Health Equity Research Institute associate director

Each February, we observe Black History Month, an acknowledgement of the struggles and accomplishments of Black Americans. In that same period, we also recognize American Heart Month, a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health.

It is fitting that these two designations are acknowledged in the same month. The health of Black Americans is influenced directly by the underlying social determinants of health’s impact on diet quality, weight, education and income, and as such, this population experiences many heart health disparities. 

To further prove that there are greater health disparities in Black Americans in diseases linked to cardiovascular health compared to white Americans, we compiled the following data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2018 BRFSS Survey.

So, what can we, as nurses, do to promote heart health in the African American community? As a nurse and public health clinical specialist, it’s my  belief that every encounter with a patient or individual is an opportunity to promote their health.

Here’s how you can use health promotion to empower individuals and communities to increase control over their own health through actions to prevent and control chronic disease. 

Create a safe environment.

The first step in health promotion is to create an environment wherein the individual or community you're interacting with feels safe, comfortable and respected. You can create this environment by carefully using your voice, posture, attention, expressions, genuineness and touch. When you take time to create a supportive authentic rapport, the person you are interacting with will sense your compassion and caring. This will make them more likely to trust and feel comfortable sharing information with you. Without establishing this trust and rapport, the information you impart may be met with skepticism and disregard.

Be reasonable and realistic.

Health promotion interventions to promote heart health can only be effective when we ensure that information provided is reasonable and realistic. To achieve this, we must tailor the health information to the individual through a lens of equity. Health promotion information is only beneficial if the message is heard, relevant and realistic to the participant.

Meaningful and adaptive.

The next step is to share this information with others in a way that is meaningful and adapted to their circumstances. It’s important to be sensitive to what is feasible, realistic and achievable for that individual’s or community's environment.

Promote Life’s Simple 7.

To foster this in your practice, I recommend using the American Heart Association’s guide: Life’s Simple 7. Life's Simple 7 is defined by the American Heart Association as the seven risk factors that people can improve through lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal cardiovascular health. These evidence-based steps focus on health behaviors to manage blood pressure, control cholesterol, reduce blood sugar, get active, eat better, lose weight and stop smoking. Encouraging individuals to take even one or two of these steps will make a big difference in their heart health.

Published February 1, 2021