42: Jackie Robinson Is Still a Touchstone

It’s hardly fair to ask “Number 42” to level the playing field once again. Yet almost 42 years after his untimely death, Jackie Robinson’s iconic status can still change society for the better.

His story can focus more attention on diabetes-related heart disease, which claimed the six-time World Series player at 53. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, taking about 1 million lives annually.

Jackie Robinson’s grit and refusal to lose in the face of enormous odds are ample inspiration for wellness advocates to raise health awareness and spur improvements in care. The Hall of Famer has already been a catalyst for change in baseball and civil rights. Let’s hope that his story will inspire change in heart disease and diabetes rates too.

More than 70 million Americans now live with some form of heart disease, even if they are physically fit. Furthermore, African-Americans are at higher risk due to the high prevalence of the most common contributing factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between the risk for heart disease and the risk for stroke. The rate of first strokes in African-Americans is almost double that of Caucasians, and strokes tend to occur earlier in life.

Know Your Risk Factors

High blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is often considered a silent killer because it can permanently damage the heart before symptoms are even noticed. African-Americans have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure in the world. It develops earlier in life, and tends to be more severe than in Caucasians. Research suggests that this may be related to a gene that causes African-Americans to be more sensitive to salt, making treatment with certain anti-hypertensive medications more likely to successfully lower blood pressure.

High cholesterol. Recently, scientists found that high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad cholesterol”) in African-American men were partly due to genetic differences but lifestyle choices also play a role.

Diabetes. Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without it. Non-Hispanic African-Americans are 77 percent more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Early warning signs can easily be missed, leading to more significant complications. Simple blood tests can make the diagnosis. Diabetes can be controlled through lifestyle changes like healthy eating and regular exercise.

Obesity. Among African-Americans age 20 and older, 63 percent of men and 77 percent of women are overweight or obese. Too much fat, especially carried around the waist, puts you at higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other health problems.

You have the power to change most of the risk for heart disease–about 75 to 80 percent. There are simple ways to prevent heart disease or reduce the chance of it t. A risk-assessment is critical to take steps toward maintaining good heart health. Early identification is key, so speak with your physician today.

6 Responses to “42: Jackie Robinson Is Still a Touchstone”

  1. K. O. Harrop

    Thanks for reminding me to get my checkup. I didn’t know that’s what killed Jackie Robinson. He looked fit in all the photographs of him that I saw.

    • Sonia Henry, MD, FACC

      Mr. Harrop, I am glad you made that comment. Looking fit does not mean you are not at risk for heart disease. Even if you are a workout fiend, your risk for heart disease is not completely eliminated. Factors like cholesterol, eating habits, smoking and genetics can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and fit and still have high cholesterol. This highlights the importance of close follow-up with your doctor.

  2. Kevin Archer

    I’m looking forward to seeing the movie but I didn’t know Robinson was faced with this health issue. 1 million people annually is a scary fact and awareness is very important. Hopefully Jackie Robinson’s story as well as the many others out there will spread awareness, also articles as such written are very much needed to inform people about this rapid dangerous disease and its contributing risk factors. The article mentions that there are 700 million people living with some type or form of heart disease that is such a high number and awareness is crucial also screening and preventive treatment, there were a lot of facts and information in this article that I didn’t know, but after reading this article, I’m very much aware now. My next doctors visit I will be focusing on my heart health, especially after reading this. Thank-you Dr. Sonia Henry for helping me become even more aware of this dangerous disease

    • Sonia Henry, MD, FACC

      Thanks you Mr., Archer for your comment. Awareness is the one of the biggest keys to prevention. It is very important to see your doctor to discuss your own personal risk of heart disease. Here is a great link to start to assess your risk for heart disease created by the American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/MyLifeCheck

  3. Lorraine Thomas

    We generally judge ourselves and others by our apperance while ignoring how we feel.This articles demonstrated the importance of visiting your doctor at lease once a year to have the basic blood tests and a physical examination done. I was not aware of the cause of Mr. Robinson’s death, thank you Dr. Henry for bringing it to my attention.

    • Sonia Henry, MD, FACC

      Mrs. Thomas, I agree it’s very important not to ignore how you feel and one must obtain prompt attention when symptoms exist. It is also important to be aware that for many cardiac risk factors there are no visual cues and no symptom. Hypertension is nicknamed the “silent killer”. Basic lab work and physical exam can identity up these asymptomatic diagnoses. This again stress the importance of close and regular follow up with your doctor.


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