• Home
  • Significance of February: The Connection Between Black History and Heart Awareness Months

Significance of February: The Connection between Black History and Heart Awareness Months

Op-ed by Jennifer Herman, RN, BSN, CCP


Topeka, Kansas (Feb. 20, 2024) – As we honor and recognize the rich heritage of the Black community, it’s important to look at what inequities still exist and what work still needs to be done. February is Heart Awareness month, and as a nurse who spends time assisting people through the Disease Management and Wellness Programs at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS), I am struck by the stark contrasts in numbers related to heart disease.

  • Black Americans are 54% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than white Americans.[1]
  • In Kansas, heart disease has the highest mortality rate of all other causes of death (162 deaths per 100,000 people). The rate is significantly higher for Black Kansans (221.9 per 100,000).[2]
  • Stroke is a leading cause of death among Black women. Among Black women ages 20 years and older, nearly 58% have high blood pressure and only around 20% of those women have their blood pressure under control.[3]
  • Black men have a 70% higher risk of heart failure compared with white men.[4]
  • Black Americans have the highest incidence of cardiac arrest outside of the hospital and are significantly less likely to survive.[5]

These are just a snapshot of the staggering differences. We know that risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. But, new study findings are starting to suggest that for Black Americans, social factors such as unemployment, low family income, food insecurity and no regular access to healthcare, may impact cardiovascular mortality more than the health-related risk factors alone.[1]

To broadly address social determinants of health across Kansas, BCBSKS launched Blue Health Initiatives in 2016, a program that works to invest in communities to create sustainable, healthy places where Kansans live, work and play in ways that improve the quality of their lives. Additionally, BCBSKS is also working to develop a health equity program, so that we can do our part in helping reduce some of the health disparities faced by Kansans. More information will be shared on this in the coming months.

As BCBSKS continues working as a company to find ways to address the needs of our communities, it’s also important for individuals to have the skills and information, and act where they can. Here are some healthy habits to work towards: 1) Know your numbers. Know your blood pressure, your cholesterol levels, your weight, your blood sugar levels and take action. 2) Check your diet. Eat less high-sodium foods, sugar/sweetened drinks, and highly processed food and eat more vegetables/fruits, beans/legumes, lean meats/fish, low-fat/fat-free dairy, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil/ avocado. 3) Get moving. Work towards 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes/week of vigorous-intensity activity. 4) Stop smoking and limit alcohol. 5) Manage stress. 6) Get quality sleep. This means seven hours or more of sleep a night. 7) Know CPR. In the event someone isn’t responsive, it’s key to assist them until help arrives. Hands only fast and hard chest compressions (120/minute) can be a lifesaver. If you don’t know CPR, several online resources can provide instruction.

As a nurse, one of the most critical needs I see is the need for support. When we’re faced with new or uncontrolled health conditions, the uncertainty can be overwhelming. Having support to guide you during this time is key to your success. One great place for support is through your insurance provider.  At BCBSKS, we offer free education programs for our members with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma and COPD.  We also offer weight and stress management, tobacco cessation and maternity wellness programs. We have registered nurses who work 1:1 with our members, providing individualized programs to assist them with self-management education, finding resources and goal setting, to empower them to take charge of their health.  The programs are done via a monthly phone call. We are here to support and coach our members. To enroll or inquire about our free, no obligation programs, visit bcbsks.com/Enroll or call 800-520-3137.

This month brings many important reminders for your well-being. We are Kansans serving Kansans and encourage you to use the supports available in your health journey.


[1] Why are Black adults at greater risk of death from heart disease? Study blames social factors | Tulane University News

[2] Kansas Health Matters, 2018-2020

[3] Heart Disease and Stroke in Black Women | Go Red for Women

[4] Heart Disease Risk: How Race and Ethnicity Play a Role (clevelandclinic.org)

[5] Black, Hispanic adults less likely to receive CPR, especially in public | American Heart Association

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas

For more than 80 years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas has built a reputation of trust with its members and contracting providers by providing outstanding customer service while quickly and accurately processing claims; fairly administering benefit plans and contracts; offering programs, services and tools to help members improve or maintain their health; and operating under the highest ethical standards while being good stewards of premium dollars. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and is the state’s largest insurer, serving all Kansas counties except Johnson and Wyandotte. For more information, visit bcbsks.com.