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Women of Color Have More Risk Factors for Heart Disease

February 6, 2012(202) 205-0143


HHS Office on Women’s Health funds new community-based programs to increase awareness

WASHINGTON – African American women are nearly 40 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than white women, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics published by the American Heart Association in the January 25 issue of Circulation exit disclaimer. Women of color are also more likely to have multiple risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. A 2011 Journal of Women's Health exit disclaimer study that was funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women’s Health indicated that 57 percent of Latina women, 40 percent of African American women, and 32 percent of white women had three or more risk factors for having a heart attack. Surprisingly, these women were significantly less aware (60 percent) than healthier women of the symptoms of a heart attack and of the need to call 9-1-1 if having symptoms. These data suggest that the women who are at most risk for heart disease and its potential outcomes are actually least aware of the threat.

To counter this trend, the HHS Office on Women's Health (OWH) is awarding funds to 10 community-based organizations to increase awareness of heart attack symptoms for women -- and of the need to call 9-1-1 when they arise.

In addition, OWH's Make the Call, Don't Miss A Beat campaign is partnering with Million Hearts, the new HHS national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years. Together, Million Hearts and OWH will work to prevent heart attacks from occurring by educating health care providers about risk factor prevention in women. "Our goal is to continue educating women about the symptoms of a heart attack and the need to call 9-1-1 if experiencing these symptoms. We will work with national partners and community grantees to reach African American and Hispanic women, who are at greater risk for developing heart disease than Caucasian women," said Nancy C. Lee, M.D., HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health - Women's Health.

In addition to symptom awareness, another clear challenge is getting women to seek necessary treatment in a timely manner. The time lost by not calling 9-1-1 for an ambulance can lead to increased death of heart muscle cells and worse outcomes.

This February, the Office on Women’s Health urges women to make the call to 9-1-1 immediately if they experience any one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain, discomfort, pressure or squeezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
  • Unusual upper body pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat

The recipients of the OWH community awards to combat heart disease are:

  • ACCEPT (African American Community Cultural Education Programs & Trainings), Reno, Nev.
  • Abyssinian Baptist Church/Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
  • Cardiology Associates Foundation, Jonesboro, Ark.
  • Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, Chicago, Ill.
  • Coastal Health District 9-1-1, Savannah, Ga.
  • Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor, Maine.
  • Franciscan Foundation, Tacoma, Wash.
  • Iowa Department of Public Health, Des Moines, Iowa.
  • University of Utah Center of Excellence in Women's Health, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Full information on the 10 awardee programs can be found at



Office on Women's Health
The Office on Women's Health (OWH) was established in 1991. OWH coordinates the efforts of all the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ agencies and offices involved in women's health. The office works to improve the health and well-being of women and girls in the United States through its programs, by educating health professionals and motivating behavior change in consumers through the dissemination of health information.

For more heart attack resources:, and

Note: All OASH press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at