Black Men at Greater Risk of Heart Disease

Black men in Arkansas die from heart disease at greater rates than men of other races in the state, according to a new report.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with West Virginia University released the report today.

"Men and Heart Disease: An Atlas of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mortality" gives a breakdown of heart disease death rates among American men, 35 and older, between 1991 and 1995.

According to the report, black men in Arkansas died of heart disease at a rate of 923 deaths for every 100,000 black men. The rate was fifth highest in the nation.

Maine had the highest rate at 1,069 per 100,000 black men. Mississippi had the second highest with 1,028 per 100,000. The national rate was 841 per 100,000.

Among white men in Arkansas, the rate was 715 per 100,000, or 12th highest in the nation.

"The atlas is alarming," said Dr. Creshelle R. Nash of the Arkansas Center for Health Involvement, a health policy group. "There's a clear disparity there.

"But it's telling us stuff we already know: Arkansans are in worse health than the nation, minorities are in worse health, poor people are in worse health."

Among all races in Arkansas, 732 out of every 100,000 men died of heart disease, also the 12th highest rate in the country. The national average was 675 per 100,000.

The report mirrors findings from a companion study released last year on heart disease among women in the same age range, who have a death rate of 401 per 100,000.

Nash said public health practitioners must find ways to address the causes of Arkansas' heart disease rates. "Health has to be a priority [in Arkansas], and I think we're moving toward that," she said.

The high rates in Arkansas can be attributed to high-risk activities, a lack of education and opportunity, a lack of access to health care, and poverty, she said.

"People without money have different priorities," Nash said. "We have to teach them that you can have a better quality of life if you're healthy."

Arkansas can reduce the rates, but it will be a long time coming, Nash said. "It's taken us decades to create this problem," she said. "It'll take decades to improve things."

The state Health Department has received a grant to create a program to reduce heart disease rates, but the best opportunity for change in the near future comes from Arkansas' share of a nationwide tobacco lawsuit settlement, Nash said.

With the settlement money, she said, will come a public health school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that will help people learn how to help their communities.