Inequalities in heart heath suggest a need for personalized medicine

In 2010, the American Heart Association established seven metrics for ideal cardiovascular health. While studies have shown that overall mortality from heart disease has decreased as a result of the initiative, these preventative measures appear to be more effective in some communities than others.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston examined data on ideal cardiovascular health in more than 4,700 participants of the Jackson Heart Study in Jackson, Mississippi, one of the largest studies of heart health among African Americans in the U.S.

The more healthy metrics individuals display, the less likely they are to suffer a heart attack or stroke. Researchers found the incidence of healthy markers in Jackson was rare. Only 17 percent of the community had four markers or more.

These results suggest that a larger social context shapes the heart disease risk for some African Americans, said Cheryl Clark, MD, ScD, senior author of the study.

“In order for interventions to be truly effective, you have to take into account the lifestyle and behaviors of different social groups,” she said. “It starts with making sure that these groups are included in population studies.”

In addition, technological advances make gathering this social data easier.

“Wearable technology has the potential to make a big impact,” Clark said. “In addition to counting steps, these devices gather data on blood pressure that can be used to diagnose high blood pressure early on, before a patient enters a clinical setting.”

She also noted that diverse communities have access to smart phones. This opens up the possibility of developing apps that push cardiovascular health data through a device community members use regularly.

Overall, the research findings suggest a need for a more personalized approach to healthcare.

"Given all that is known about preventing heart disease, it is critical that public health communities work with local communities to support efforts to improve heart health," said Mark Ommerborn, public health researcher and lead author of the study, in a statement.