Phylicia Rashad, at Wayne State University's Hilberry Theater lobby, on 26 April 2005Phylicia Rashad at Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theater on 26 April 2005
Creative Commons image used courtesy of Dmetric

Former President Bill Clinton’s initiative to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health categorizes cardiovascular disease and diabetes as two separate health issues. Yet the connection between these two conditions is so strong that it is virtually impossible to tackle one without also addressing the other.

Heart disease is not only the number one killer in the U.S. but also the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths. In fact, people with type 2 diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke than non-diabetics. This is because the two diseases share a common root: insulin resistance, which affects African Americans and Hispanics at higher rates than Caucasians.

Furthermore, new research presented this summer at the 2002 annual meeting of the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks (ISHIB) revealed that African- American patients with diabetes were three times more likely to have uncontrolled hypertension than black Americans without diabetes. According to the study’s principal investigator, James H. Jackson, PharmD, “The statistics are astounding. Even though [black patients with diabetes] are seeking treatment and visiting their doctors, they are still failing to control their blood pressure.”

Because a recent survey conducted by the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) found that many African Americans and Hispanics do not consider heart disease and diabetes to be related conditions, the organization has teamed up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) and GlaxoSmithKline to launch a national public awareness campaign, Take Diabetes to Heart! The campaign’s spokesperson is the popular African-American actress Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”

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For Rashad, this is an issue that strikes close to home. “My father, who had diabetes, died of a heart attack,” she says. “When I read his death certificate, I learned that the root cause was diabetes. I had never made the association between heart disease and diabetes. So few people with diabetes realize how strongly these diseases are linked, and the importance of working with their health care team to actively and effectively manage their type 2 diabetes.”

This fall, Rashad will travel around the country to share her personal connection with the disease and challenge African Americans and Hispanics with type 2 diabetes to take action to control their disease early and aggressively. The Take Diabetes to Heart! campaign also offers free tips and tools for diabetes management, including an informational Web site and a cookbook. Nurses can find out more about this program by visiting www.takediabetestoheart.com or calling (800) 307-7113.

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