Berkeley is trying a "radical" new approach to treating heart disease and high blood pressure among its African-American residents by targeting families living on just four city streets.

The Heart 2 Heart project between the city and LifeLong Medical Care will invest about $500,000 over three years to work with about 500 African-American households in South and West Berkeley.

"We wanted to try a radical approach to how we do our work," said Tanya Moore, co-director of Berkeley's Chronic Disease Prevention Program. "Certain areas of Berkeley are being proportionately affected by strokes and heart attacks, so why not focus our work in these communities?"

Heart 2 Heart will contact people about health services through a combination of door-to-door outreach, community organizations and a mobile health van, Moore said.

It's the first time ever that the city has taken such a concentrated approach to contacting a specific group of people in the city, she said.

Berkeley's program will target households on Russell and Oregon streets between Dohr Street and McGee Avenue in South Berkeley and on Allston Way and Bancroft Way between San Pablo Avenue and 6th Street. The streets were picked with input from the Police Department, churches, community groups, public health workers and residents, Moore said.


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The approach is partly inspired by a program called the Harlem Children's Zone, in which a small area of New York City's Harlem neighborhood — starting with one city block — was targeted in the 1990s for social services to improve health and education. The program eventually grew to 100 city blocks and served 7,400 children and 4,100 adults.

To get the word out about Heart 2 Heart, Berkeley is holding a community meeting March 14, but it has not yet decided on a place. And it will host a block party to get people interested.

The city and LifeLong Medical Care are not necessarily trying new ways of treating people, Moore said. Instead, they are trying new ways to get people into clinics to get care.

"We have a lot of programs and services that we offer, but the information isn't getting to the people," Moore said. "We're trying to make it more personal and make sure these communities know we're here."

In Berkeley, the death rate for African-Americans from coronary heart disease is two times higher than it is for whites while African-American hospitalization rates from hypertensive heart disease are 15 times higher than for whites.

Moore said the reasons for that are multifaceted, but include poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, environment, family genetics and smoking.

In Berkeley, environment and stress probably play big roles in why African-Americans get high blood pressure, she said.

"I would say stress is the most important because there is a physical response when a person is under chronic stress such as poverty, racism, living in an unsafe area and having multiple family issues," Moore said.

Stress puts more fat and sugars in the bloodstream, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, she said. In addition, people under stress tend to drink, smoke and overeat — behaviors that also can cause heart disease, she said.

"The environment you live in also plays a role," Moore said. "Do people have access to grocery stores that are affordable or are they living in a community with a lot of liquor stores? Do you have access to health care? Do you have health insurance? Then there's education and the cultural component in the way we eat and deal with stress."

In addition to the city and LifeLong Medical Care, other participating organizations include Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action, the South Berkeley YMCA and McGee Avenue Baptist Church.

Reach Doug Oakley at doakley@bayareanewsgroup.com.