When it comes to healthiest counties in the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County is far from the top of the list. According to Oby Nwabuzor, the community impact director for the American Heart Association, Milwaukee County ranks 71 out of 72 when it comes to health.

There are certain ZIP codes in Milwaukee that are struggling more than others when it comes to health, which is why Milwaukee is ranked so low, said Tim Nikolai, community impact director for the American Heart Association, during an interview with the Milwaukee Courier.

Milwaukee can’t achieve its health goals until it begins to understand and tackle the health disparities that are affecting some of most vulnerable communities, he said.

Earlier this week, the American Heart Association held its first of three community listening sessions with community shareholders. The listening sessions provided an opportunity for the association to share the health concerns plaguing Milwaukee and hear feedback from community members.

Some of the health concerns affecting not only Milwaukee County but the nation as well include chronic disease, access to food and tobacco use, said Nikolai. He noted that a lot of the community members were in agreement with the association about health concerns.

Many of the community shareholders talked about the need to educate people on healthy food options and where to find fresh food.

Nwabuzor said that during the start of the pandemic, the American Heart Association collaborated with community partners to make access to food easier. Through this collaboration, the Hunger Task Force created an interactive map, which helps Milwaukee residents locate meals and food pantries.

Through the map, people could find free or affordable food without being judged, Nwabuzor said.

The American Heart Association also has a Healthy for Life Initiative and has partnered with organizations such as Core El Centro and Journey House to promote nutrition and well-being through workshops, cooking demonstrations and more.

Nwabuzor said the initiative shows people how to eat healthy while still catering to their taste buds. For example, the program urges buying fruit instead of candy so someone can still get the sweetness they crave with added benefits.

In addition to eating better, Nwabuzor said, “Individuals can utilize their environment more.”

Even though not everyone’s environment looks the same, people can still do basic things such as going for daily walks, she said.

Nikolai added that it is important to know the numbers for one’s blood pressure, cholesterol and so on.

“You can’t change your health unless you know your numbers,” he said.

About 30% of Milwaukee County has high blood pressure, which puts people on track for more serious issues such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems and more, Nikolai said. High blood pressure is ranked second when it comes to preventable causes of death with number one being tobacco use, he explained.

He added that 50% to 60% of health is influenced by social determinants such as access to food, affordable housing and more.

“Racism and implicit bias play a role into one’s health,” said Nwabuzor, adding that health plays a big role when it comes to racial justice.

“There are some huge challenges facing our community,” said Nikolai, “But there’s the opportunity to change the way things have always been done.”