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Community lifeguards of black women's health.

Can you imagine having a chronic condition like heart disease and not being aware of it? Or knowing that if something is really wrong, you can't afford treatment? For women in underserved communities, this is too often the case. REACH 2010: At the Heart of New Orleans is a church-based research demonstration project that sets out to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease among African-American women, for whom heart disease is the leading cause of death yet often goes unrecognized and/or properly treated.

REACH 2010 is based on an acronym for "Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health," a term coined in 1998 by then-Surgeon General David Satcher to emphasize the need to reduce health disparities among people of color. Initiated in 2000 and supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the program targets health disparities in at least three dozen initiatives around the country. At the Heart of New Orleans responds to black women's health disparities with the same sense of urgency that lifeguards use to save lives. Lifeguards are respected, certified overseers who jump into the water to rescue people while promoting safety in their own jurisdiction. In the same manner, At the Heart of New Orleans educates women in that city on how to take charge of their health, reduce stress and navigate in sometimes hostile health care systems.

MITIGATING THE RISK

Through screenings and education, physical fitness activities and women's self-empowerment groups, At the Heart of New Orleans provides a safety net of resources designed to preserve the health of African-American women. When the program began, its participants were more aware of their family history of cardiovascular disease than of their own risk factors.

Heart disease is the number-one killer of African-American women as it is of all women over the age of 25. African-American women are at least two to four times as likely to develop diabetes as Caucasian women (so are Hispanic Latino, American Indian and Asian Pacific Islander women). When combined with stroke, cardiovascular diseases claim the lives of nearly half a million women each year about a death a minute. That's more lives than the next seven causes of death combined, and nearly twice as many as all forms of cancer, including breast cancer.

Yet if women don't know of their risk factors, they're less likely to do anything to reduce them. Nearly two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms of their illness. Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations, kidney disease and premature death from heart disease and stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in women and the number-three killer of women 25 and older. Twenty-five percent of women die within a year of their initial stroke, a percentage that increases with age.

To help women understand and reduce their risk factors, At the Heart of New Orleans offers classes on health education and empowerment, stress management, and communicating and navigating health care delivery systems. Women learn how to aim for a healthy weight and how to read food labels in order to choose foods lower in fat, calories, salt and sodium. Stress management classes help them understand how much time they need to rest and sleep, and how to find that time. Inadequate rest and sleep along with multiple roles of child rearing, overworking and caregiving cause stress and give way to the Type "E" personality--"everything to everyone." And unmanaged stress can have deadly consequences.

So far, At the Heart of New Orleans" community-wide accomplishments include hundreds of classes reaching thousands of people, along with free blood pressure and cholesterol screenings for more than 5,000 people and counseling from African-American health professional volunteers. We hope to show many more women in New Orleans that it's never too late to take charge of your health, and that your health affects the health of your family and community

The central coordinating organization for the project is the Black Women's Health Imperative (formerly National Black Women's Health Project), a leading African-American health education, research, advocacy and leadership development organization. Other partners include the Healthy Heart Community Prevention Project, Black Women's Health Project of Louisiana, Southern University, A&M College School of Nursing, the City of New Orleans Health Department, the Louisiana State Office of Public Health Cardiovascular Health Section, and 40 churches in underserved New Orleans communities.

To learn more about REACH 2010: At the Heart of New Orleans and/or about the Black Women's Health Imperative, call 202.548.4000 or visit www.blackwomenshealth.org. For more on REACH 2010, visit www.cdc.gov/reach2010.

Cheryl Taylor, PhD, is principal investigator of REACH 2010: At the Heart of New Orleans. C. LeBrane Tilton, M PH, is the statewide faith-based coordinator for the Louisiana Tobacco Control Program and Wellness Resource Navigator. She also serves on the Governor's Health Care Task Force.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health
Author:Taylor, Cheryl; Tilton, C. LeBrane
Publication:Women's Health Activist
Geographic Code:1U7LA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:817
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