San Francisco’s Healthy Heart Campaign Promotes Fitness for African Americans and Latinos



African Americans in the city of San Francisco are almost at twice the number of stroke-related deaths, compared to other races and ethnicities.


Charles Burns, 56, almost found out about this the hard way when a stroke altered his life.




“Two years ago, I was driving and on my way home in the Bay View when my vision started getting blurry,” said Burns. “I got home and took a nap and thought I could sleep it off. The next day, I ended up using the bathroom on myself, and that’s when I knew something was wrong.”


He went to St. Luke’s Hospital where he found out he had suffered a mild stroke. After learning his diagnosis, he was in the hospital for seven days.


“I had to get myself back together, and I was in rehab for six months,” he said.


In rehab he had to relearn how to walk and function again. Burns did his outpatient treatment at Southeast Health Clinic, when he was referred to the Bay View YMCA’s health program and once in that program, he changed his life around.


Burns is part of Healthy Heart San Francisco, a new federally funded campaign initiated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The program is designed to promote fitness opportunities for low-income San Francisco residents in the African American and Latino communities.


Health workers at city clinics offer physical activity prescriptions to people to take advantage of fitness classes, dieting and lifestyle changes, which help to promote healthier lifestyles.


“At the YMCA, I joined programs and began exercising daily with the treadmill, weights, walking and swimming,” said Burns. “I also changed my diet around, cutting back on the beef and sticking with a lot of chicken, fish and vegetables.”


Nationally, there are more than 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes that take place yearly according to the Centers for Disease Control.


Nearly 44 percent of African American men and 48 percent of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.


A recent survey by the CDC found that more than (26.1 percent of Latinos reported having high blood pressure, and 30.4 percent with high blood pressure weren’t taking medication that could reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke.


According to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s Community Health Assessment, in San Francisco African American men have a higher rate of death than other ethnicities when it comes to heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.


African American women also have higher rates of death compared to other races when it comes to heart disease, strokes and lung cancer.


Health officials feel that the Healthy Heart Campaign can help spur lifestyle changes and promote improved health.


The main goal is to address health inequities…for African-Americans and Latinos who live in [areas] where at least 30 percent of the population live below 200 percent of the [poverty level] and 25 percent of adults are without a high school education,” said Jacqueline McCright, the deputy director of community health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.


Andre Larrimore, a 53-year old Black man, has been a beneficiary of the Healthy Heart program, after almost not being able to walk, after having a work accident at the San Francisco Shipyard.


“I was on a wooden scaffold that was 20 feet up in the air when I slipped and fell and landed on my back and hit my head,” said Larrimore. “The end result was that I had a broken back and had suffered a concussion.”


He was in San Francisco General Hospital for a week and in a back brace for two months. In the process of being in the brace, he picked up a lot of extra weight and he began to worry about his health.


“I began to realize I had to take better care of my health,” continued Larrimore.


Ultimately, he enrolled in programs at the YMCA, began to walk and he changed his diet.


“I walk every day, workout daily and I have lowered my blood pressure and my diabetes is in control,” said Larrimore. “I am living much better as I have changed my diet 90 percent.”


The Healthy Heart program is a three-year pilot program, funded for $800,000. Residents in San Francisco can access the free classes by visiting the participating city clinics in San Francisco or by dialing 211 for more information.


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