February 16, 2023

Heart Health Awareness: Addressing Racial Disparities and Helping Individuals with Heart Disease

Every February MANNA joins a multitude of organizations in recognizing American Heart Month to showcase the importance of heart health, while we work year-round to support those who are impacted by heart disease and related conditions. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and its impact on many communities in Philadelphia is significant. Each year, MANNA helps more than 1,900 clients with heart disease by utilizing nutrition guidelines from the American Heart Association to provide medically tailored meals that are heart-healthy, high in protein, and moderate in carbohydrates, sodium, and fat to help treat their condition and improve their quality of life.


When working with communities as diverse as those in our city, we must acknowledge existing health disparities and their root causes. While the risk of heart disease exists for all Philadelphians, the danger is higher for racial and ethnic minority groups, especially among Black communities in Philadelphia.


How Race and Ethnicity Play a Role in Heart Disease

Black communities face a greater risk of developing heart disease due to a combination of factors rooted in structural racism, including low income, low educational attainment, poor environmental conditions, poor access to healthcare, and communication barriers (i.e. social determinants of health). These conditions produce drastically different health outcomes for our city’s population that vary by neighborhood. Consider the following differences when comparing the more affluent and white community of Center City to the majority low-income and Black community of Nicetown/Tioga located in North Philadelphia:

  • Hypertension impacts 45.4% of the population in the Nicetown/Tioga neighborhood of Philadelphia, vs. 23.3% of the population in Center City;
  • Stroke impacts 6.5% of Nicetown/Tioga residents, compared to 1.7% of Center City residents;
  • 17 % of Nicetown/Tioga residents live more than a half mile away from a supermarket, compared to just 0.7% of Center City residents[1].


What Can Be Done

Although many risk factors for developing heart disease are due to broader social determinants of health, there are actions that individuals can take to help reduce their risk. Incorporating health-promoting behaviors into daily routines, such as consuming more fruits and vegetables and getting enough exercise, are ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, many people in our City – and our country – face barriers to accessing nutritious food due to many of the factors described above. And when individuals are diagnosed with heart disease and prescribed a diet to help manage their condition, the current healthcare system is not equipped to incorporate nutrition in the treatment process for all who need it.


However, there are steps we can take to combat the impact of heart disease on our communities. First, we will continue providing nutritious, medically tailored meals to our neighbors in need and increase our reach in highly impacted communities. We will also continue to offer nutrition counseling to educate and empower our clients to make the best food choices they can for their condition, and share information on the benefits of good nutrition for long-term health and wellbeing. Finally, through our policy advocacy and MANNA Institute findings, we will support greater access to medically tailored meals by building the case for insurance programs to cover our services for individuals needing a specialized diet alongside their medical treatment.


Taking these steps will result in better management of diet-related illnesses, such as heart disease, that disproportionately impact communities across our City. Here at MANNA, we will continue working alongside our communities to combat health disparities by ensuring access to nutrition services essential to the health and wellbeing of all Philadelphians.