Despite the amazing advances in medical care over the past few decades, a handful of chronic diseases stubbornly persist and lead to decreased life spans, poor quality of life and low productivity. Obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer are directly or indirectly responsible for the majority of hospital admissions, lost work days and death throughout the U.S. In the Mississippi Delta, the incidence of each of these conditions is much higher than in the rest of the country.
Much of that high percentage of serious diseases in the Delta is found in the African American community. For reasons that are not always well explained, African Americans are more prone to obesity, suffer more hypertension and its consequences (cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, strokes), develop more diabetes and are more susceptible to heart attacks and certain types of cancer. Some of these causes relate to genetics and cannot be easily resolved, but many of the causes are connected to lifestyle choices and preventable decisions.
Greenwood Leflore Hospital’s new REACH Program (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) is an exciting three-year project which will work with individuals and community representatives to educate and inform our friends around the Delta about chronic diseases and ways to meet that challenge.
REACH target diseases:
- A standard known as Body Mass Index is used to determine obesity; it correlates height and weight. A BMI from 25-30 is “overweight” and BMI over 30 is “obese.”
- 40% of African American men are overweight or obese; for women, the numbers vary between 60% and 80%
- In the Mississippi Delta, 70% of African Americans are considered overweight or obese.
- Carrying too much weight puts extra stress on the heart, kidneys, lungs and joints.
- Long-term obesity can contribute to heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High blood pressure is a chronic disease involving the body’s blood vessels. When the systolic pressure (the “top number”) is over 120 mm Hg or the diastolic pressure (the “bottom number”) is over 90, a patient is diagnosed with high blood pressure (“hypertension”).
- High blood pressure, if untreated, can lead to heart attacks, congestive heart failure, kidney failure or strokes.
- More than 45% of African Americans in the Delta have high blood pressure, and many of them do not achieve acceptable control of this disease.
- The causes of high blood pressure are not completely understood, but family history plays a big part. Poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise are also factors in the development of hypertension.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all races in the Mississippi Delta. Chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity increase the incidence of heart disease.
Heart disease can be a chronic condition in itself, limiting activities due to pain (angina) or shortness of breath.
Heart disease can also lead to heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), where the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off, or congestive heart failure, where the heart fails to pump properly.
Diabetes is a chronic disease involving the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. There are two types: Type I, where the pancreas stops producing insulin and Type II, where the body’s cells stop responding to insulin. Type I usually requires daily insulin injections, where Type II patients are often controlled with oral medications, diet and exercise.
Diabetes affects 12% of all adults in the Delta; the percentage of diabetes in African Americans is much higher.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy and strokes.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Mississippi Delta, accounting for more than 20% of deaths.
Cancer is a multifaceted term, encompassing everything from readily treatable and curable types to those that are almost always fatal.
While cancer treatment is equally successful for all races, black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than white men; black women have a 20% higher death rate. Genetics play a role in this difference, as do socioeconomic factors, smoking rates and underlying chronic diseases.