The Scope of Hypertension and Diabetes upon Communities of Color

Mina Wilson of Kaiser Permanente and CEO of Community Engagement Initiative (CEI)

Her mission for CEI

To create an infrastructure that supports access to quality educational programs and developmental opportunities for all children.

Heart disease, hypertension and diabetes plague American society and are extremely insidious in communities of color.  Nearly half of the African American community, 44 % of African American men and 48% of African American women, have some form of cardiovascular disease.  These often preventable lifestyle related maladies, once acquired, create challenging circumstances for individuals and their families if not well managed. They also create immense cost burdens for our health care system.

In the way of financial costs, more than 75% of all health care costs are due to chronic conditions.1 Four of the five most expensive health conditions (based on total health care spending in a given year in the United States) are chronic conditions – heart disease, cancer, mental disorders and pulmonary conditions.2  A 2007 study reported that seven chronic diseases – cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions and mental illness – have a total impact on the economy of $1.3 trillion annually.  By the year 2023, this number is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion in treatment costs and lost economic output.3 While the financial cost to our society are staggering, these numbers do not take into account the qualitative aspects – human impact – psychological, physical and emotional pain – that are social costs.

As we look to move toward wellness and prevention, there are contributing factors that we continue to work on as a society. Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Conditions (e.g., social, economic, and physical) in these various environments and settings (e.g., school, church, workplace, and neighborhood) have been referred to as “place.”3 In addition to the more material attributes of “place,” the patterns of social engagement and sense of security and well-being are also affected by where people live. Resources that enhance quality of life can have a significant influence on population health outcomes. Examples of these resources include safe and affordable housing, access to education, public safety, availability of healthy foods, local emergency/health services, and environments free of life-threatening toxins.

To move the needle of individual and collective wellness in a positive direction, we give thought to how technologies may be used.

  1. How might we leverage technology at the grassroots level in African American and Latino communities to improve the capacity of individuals and families to prevent and manage chronic health conditions?
  2. How might technology empower individuals to more conveniently and effectively communicate with health care and other health support providers?
  3. How do we create a systemic approach to provide the needed support and resources to change individual and family behaviors and increase community wellness?
  4. How do we leverage technology in an embodied and experiential way in order to change culture toward prevention and better management of chronic conditions?
  5. How do we link people to reliable sources of health information that is easy to understand and consume?
  6. How do we build collaborative community infrastructures to support people in their walk to shift behaviors and lifestyle choices?

The African American Wellness Project Conference consider these and other question on November 5, 2016 at the Oakland Impact Hub.  This conference will provide a forum to consider and discuss the challenges and opportunities of leveraging technology in communities of color to address these systemic realities.

While most individuals have the technological tools; smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc., the digital divide is still a reality in many communities of color; especially among more elder members of these communities.  For most these tools are easily attainable as are the applications that support them.

These are the technical solutions.

Using these technical tool to build knowledge and capability, to inform and positively influence behavior is a deeper challenge.  Training and supporting individuals and families in how to manage chronic illness is an adaptive change; a change in how they live and operate; a behavioral shift.  Adaptive challenges require different approaches. To change behaviors, knowledge must be applied, experimented with, used to create or do something.  How do we create cost effective, sustainable community based infrastructures to support this?

The upward trending of chronic diseases nationwide has the potential to financially and socially cripple our nation.  This epidemic must become a central focus if we are to turn the tide.  As we seek to move towards prevention and wellness, we must consider the broad scope of social determinants that impact the health of individuals and work to make our society more equitable for all people.  We have the opportunity to change our individual behaviors and challenge how we treat and support our body systems in our daily living.  In this quest, technological tools may support us.  It is time for each of us to stand for and be a part of the change that we want to see in our world.  Small individual shifts can drive forward large collective impact.

We welcome your voice, your passion, your commitment to this conversation.

Join us at the 2016 AAWP Tech Conference for Healthier Communities to meet with Mina Wilson and other health visionaries!