NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A 2021 American Heart Association (AHA) study showed how someone perceives themselves directly affects their heart health and is disproportionately affecting those in the Hispanic and Latino communities.
"Even in 2021, as the world has been turned upside down by a pandemic, heart disease remains the leading killer of men and women around the world and here in the United States," explained Vanderbilt Health and Vascular Institute Executive Medical Director Dr. Daniel Munoz
The new AHA study showed the Hispanic and Latino communities are being disproportionately affected, with 52% of Hispanic men and 43% of Hispanic women nationwide having a form of heart disease.
"We have known for a long time that the treatment of and, more importantly, the prevention of heart disease is a numbers game. Right?" said Munoz. "It's your cholesterol. It's your blood pressure. It's your sugar level. Do you smoke? But, we are recognizing now and what this particular study shines light on is that it is more than a numbers game."
Munoz said it's a whole "lifestyle approach" that puts an emphasis on diet and exercise but, "For some, it's very difficult to actually achieve this, when a grocery store with healthy foods is not in your neighborhood. It's not within reach, it's a bus ride, or a taxi ride across town. And just that difficulty in accessing healthy foods is that's faced by many communities through no fault of their own, and by people who really endeavor to do the right thing for their health, for their families every day so there are some structural issues there that present real barriers for people who very much want to be healthy, but, but life makes it very difficult for them to achieve that easily."
Those are just some of the challenges that Munoz said add up to making it challenging for those in the Hispanic and Latino communities to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to prioritize life-long health.
Neighborhood Health patient and CEO Brian Haile said that story is one of many in the Hispanic and Latino communities that his team sees in their 10 clinics in Nashville that are strategically placed along public transit lines for easier access.
"Neighborhood Health provides a health care home to everyone in Nashville," Haile explained, "Regardless of whether they have insurance, or they have the ability to pay. Our wealthiest patient makes well over $500,000 a year. And there are many patients who make nothing. So, we care for everyone; those with insurance, and those without."
Among the Hispanic community in Nashville, both Munoz and Haile said the population is younger than other ethnicities. Due to that difference, they say the Hispanic community is often being looked over when it comes to cardiovascular health as it is often thought of as a disease that affects older individuals.
"This population is going to skew younger, it's going to have high workforce participation and high levels of intact families that are hugely involved and invested," said Haile. "So it's a population that we need -- we've got to be really responsive to sort of the makeup of that population by focusing on geriatrics, [or] we're going to miss the Hispanic population who skews younger."
A push to better understand the Hispanic and Latino communities in Nashville and meet them where they physically spend their day-to-day lives.
"As this study points out, need to be aware of where they live, of their context of the community in which they're a part of," explained Munoz, "We are having to rethink the entire ballgame of how we think about keeping people and keeping communities well and free of the ravages of heart disease."
As Haile explained, one of the first steps is finding the right doctors and nurses as he said it is a challenge to find healthcare providers who speak the languages of all their patients.
"Any Spanish-speaking provider that wants to work with the underserved, I want to be their next call," said Haile. "This is the moment in Nashville, where we can truly make a difference. The pandemic has opened our eyes to the types of disparities in access across the city, and it's time, and we have the opportunity to really intervene and make a difference."
Both Haile and Munoz agree there needs to be some structural change in Nashville to better serve some communities such as the Hispanic and Latino neighborhoods.
"Healthcare is not just the purview of a doctor or nurse practitioner or a nurse or health professionals, there are policy implications, we need partnerships with legislators with community leaders to really do our best to lift up communities so that people in those communities, particularly vulnerable communities, can enjoy the best chance at a healthy life and hopefully a long life free of the ravages of heart disease," explained Munoz.