How to improve on good news: Take charge and stay alive for yourself and your grandchildren

B. Waine Kong, PhD, JD, Chief Executive Officer, Association of Black Cardiologists, Inc.

Cardiology Review® Online, February 2006, Volume 23, Issue 2

The good news is that the life expectancy of African Americans has increased by 100% over the past 100 years. Yes, great-grandma Emma may have looked like she was 70 years old, but she probably died before she was 35. Life was hard and African Americans were treated unfairly and unjustly with limited access to healthcare. Just 40 years after passage of key civil rights legislation, African Americans have access—not necessarily equal access—but access nonetheless to all the privileges and opportunities of this great country, including healthcare. While they live about 7 years less than their white brothers and sisters, African American women now have a life expectancy of 75 years and men, 67 years. This progress has been achieved by faith, great leadership, opportunity, talent, and discipline and has led to remarkable improvements in the economic, political, and social life of the United States.

Based on the achievements of the recent past, African Americans have reason to be optimistic. They now serve in the highest levels of government, and thousands of their elected officials represent them. Their rapid rise to leadership positions in America’s mega-corporations and even the 18 quarterbacks playing in the NFL, the number 1 golfer, women’s tennis stars, best actress and best actor honorees, and several Miss Americas speak volumes for the progress. The message is, this is a talented and ambitious people who achieve, even in the face of extreme racism. As Maya Angelou has written, “And still I rise.”

There is a gathering of greatness. Pride in health will follow. African Americans are on the verge of a health revolution—the tipping point for an outbreak of health consciousness. Even as the consumption of bacon and doughnuts increases, African Americans notice among their friends, acquaintances, and congregations a commitment to regular exercise, a heightened objection to smoking, and increased dedication to blood pressure and cholesterol control and to addressing stress in their lives.

As a community, African Americans accept that regardless of their own success, they want their children to do better than they did. They will sacrifice “everything” to make sure their children achieve and prosper.

If you want to assure that your children prosper, give them grandparents. There is no love and pride like a grandparent’s. Pity the child who does not have a grandparent to show those A’s on his or her report card to or share any achievement. As you may recall from the movie "Antwon Fisher", the hero lived a troubled life until the moment his grandmother hugged him and welcomed him to the family.

The mission of the Association of Black Cardiologists is simply that all “children deserve to know their grandparents so they will become GREAT grandparents themselves.” Having been raised by my grandmother, I know something about the importance of a grandmother’s love.

However, while other children can look forward to a long-term relationship with their grandparents and great-grandparents, because of the ravages of cardiovascular disease, African American children cannot. By the time these children graduate from high school, they are fortunate if they have even 1 living grandparent. The thieves that are stealing more than half of all African American grandparents are heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. We have the power to stop these thieves!

If the African American community is ever going to address the social problems of underachievement, unwanted pregnancies, juvenile delinquency, and antisocial behavior, it needs more grandparents. When a flight attendant gives out preflight safety instructions, the message is: In case of emergency, put on YOUR oxygen mask first. If you are not conscious, you will not be able to help anybody. This message goes far beyond an airliner. Take care of YOUR own health first, so you can continue to be available to your grandchildren.

As the children’s nursery rhyme tells us:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

Cannot put Humpty together again.

Preventing a disease is always better than trying to cure it, both on a personal basis and for the society. This is particularly true for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, all of which are lifestyle diseases that can and should be prevented. If you haven’t already, begin today to try to reduce your risk of these killer diseases, and ensure that your children enjoy a healthy and prosperous life by teaching them how to take care of themselves as well. Adopt the “Seven Steps to Good Health,” developed by the Association of Black Cardiologists.

1. Go to church and be spiritually active. According to a study from the University of Texas, African Americans who go to church regularly live 14 years longer than African Americans who do not go to church.

2. Take charge of your blood pressure. This is the most lethal risk to your health. Tell your doctor you want to keep your blood pressure at goal (120/80 mm Hg) and follow his or her advice.

3. Control your cholesterol. Keep your HDL (high-density lipoprotein “good” cholesterol) high and your LDL (low-density lipoprotein “bad” cholesterol) and total cholesterol low.

4. Track your blood sugar. While the incidence of obesity has increased by 50% over the last 10 years, that of diabetes has increased by 57%. If you are overweight, you run a very high risk of developing diabetes, which increases your risk of blindness, amputations, and impotence.

5. Enjoy regular exercise and a sensible diet. Move those muscles (30 minutes per day—every day). Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables and reduce that of fats and sugars. Most of all, eat less overall. Every little bit you do either helps or hurts a little bit.

6. Don’t smoke. Nobody argues with this anymore, not even smokers.

7. Access better healthcare and faithfully take your medication as prescribed. It is unacceptable for the most vulnerable among us to receive the worst care. Being poor is not a justification for poor healthcare. All members of society deserve to receive respectful, culturally competent healthcare. If you are unhappy with the care you are receiving, find another physician.

Please join the Association of Black Cardiologists in its effort to reduce the prevalence of diseases that rob children of the warmth and love of their grandparents. By paying dues of just $35 per year, you will be designated as a “Community Health Advocate” and benefit from the tremendous programs and publications offered by the Association of Black Cardiologists. To learn more about the organization and how you can help, call 800-753-9222 or visit

www.abcardio.org.

February is Black Heritage Month as well as Heart Month. Regardless of your age, commit yourself to being available for your grandchildren. When a grandparent dies, an entire “library” goes up in flames.