The conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work, and age – known as social determinants of health (SDoH) – can greatly help or harm our health.
More health organizations and healthcare facilities are recognizing the impact SDoH has on overall health, especially in marginalized and medically underserved areas, such as in some Latino communities.
The American Heart Association is one of these organizations.
That is why they created the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator, a program that supports local communities, small businesses, social entrepreneurs, and innovators in addressing health disparities through training, mentorship, and funding opportunities.
Let’s explore the relationship between SDoH and heart health, and what the American Heart Association is doing to help address social needs in communities nationwide.
How SDoH Impacts Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of heart conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks.
SDoH can influence a person’s cardiovascular health in numerous ways.
For example, if a person’s neighborhood is unsafe or lacks green spaces for outdoor activity, they may stay home and live a more sedentary lifestyle, which can contribute to poor heart health.
Further, “The feeling of being unsafe may cause you more stress and increase stress-related hormones,” Dr. Tiffany Powell-Wiley, chief of the Social Determinants of Obesity and Cardiovascular Risk laboratory at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, told the American Heart Association.
“Those stress hormones may then promote weight gain. There’s definite data to support a relationship between that feeling of safety and health markers like weight … and even blood pressure.”
Diet is another contributing factor to heart health; but in areas known as food deserts and food swamps, healthy food can be hard to come by.
These are just a few examples why it is so important to address patient social needs to improve overall health.
“If you live in a community where there are no sidewalks and there are no opportunities to be physically active, a physician telling you to exercise more may go in one ear and out the other,” Dr. Powell-Wiley told the American Heart Association.
“Or if you are told you need to eat a better diet, but you don’t have any access to healthy foods in your community because the closest store is a convenience store or a gas station, the concept of eating healthy may not exist for you.”
How SDoH Screening Improves Heart Health
However, if a healthcare provider doesn’t know or understand the challenges a patient faces in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it can be hard to create an effective care plan.
That’s where SDoH screening can help.
Healthcare facilities like Nemours Children’s Health are screening patients for social needs, such as food and housing insecurity, using an electronic questionnaire. If a patient screens positive for social needs, they are either supported within the practice or referred to community resources for help.
These community resources, which include food banks, housing shelters, and more, can make a big difference in patient health outcomes by alleviating barriers to healthcare and giving patients a better opportunity to follow their care plan.
When it comes to CVD, addressing social needs can be critical in sustainably improving heart health.
“Addressing social determinants can give you a bigger bang for your buck, likely, than using a pill,” Dr. Powell-Wiley told the American Heart Association.
For example, Hope Clinic of Houston, Texas runs Bite of HOPE, a food program that brings nutrition to food insecure neighborhoods. They also help people of all ages, including children, learn more about nutrition to help prevent chronic disease later in later in life, including CVD.
Overall, addressing social needs is a powerful way to improve health outcomes, especially in vulnerable patients, such as Latinos.
Latinos and Cardiovascular Disease
Unfortunately, Latinos face a variety of social, environmental, and economic inequities in their neighborhoods and communities that create social need and negatively impact health.
For example, South Texas is an area with a high Latino population and is considered a “hotbed” for CVD. This same area struggles with poverty, unemployment, and lack of health insurance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These inequities are the root causes of Latino health disparities, including a harder time preventing and managing CVD.
In fact, from 2015 to 2018, 52.3% of Latinos and 42.7% of Latinas aged 20 and older had some type of CVD, according to a 2021 American Heart Association study.
American Heart Association Helps Address Social Needs
The American Heart Association knows that health needs extend beyond clinical walls.
That’s why the organization created the EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator, a program that supports local communities, small businesses, social entrepreneurs, and innovators in addressing health disparities through training, mentorship, and funding opportunities.
“For years, the American Heart Association Business Accelerator has been an incredible resource for entrepreneurs and organizations addressing the social determinants of health in some of the most under-resourced areas of the country,” Raymond Vara, volunteer chairman of the board of the American Heart Association and president and CEO of Hawai`i Pacific Health, said in a press release.
“Through the valuable mentorship, support, and for many, funding, that we provide, these local change makers are able to take the next steps to improve the health and wellness of their communities in new and innovative ways.”
Now in its seventh year, Business Accelerator has trained more than 100 social entrepreneurs and organizations and provided more than $1 million in financial grants.
Applications to participate in Business Accelerator are now open through June 26, 2023.
You Have a Voice for Health Equity!
To improve heart health for Latinos and all people, healthcare leaders must identify and address social needs that negatively impact patient health.
SDoH screening programs and the Business Accelerator are two ways to achieve this goal.
You can help promote heart health where you live for Latinos and all people, too.
Select your county and get a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
In your report card, you will see maps, data, and gauges to compare health equity issues, including healthcare access and income level, to the rest of your state and nation.
You can email your Health Equity Report Card to local leaders to stimulate community change. Use the data in your materials or share on social media to raise awareness.
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