Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal has recently become a heart disease prevention advocate and he wants to share one piece of advice for everyone: Find a physician and get a checkup.
Shaq spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Ofili, a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, who also stressed that having regular appointments with a physician and knowing what health risk factors you may have, are both important parts of preventing heart disease.
"When I look in the mirror, I say 'I'm healthy, I don't need a doctor, I'm not going to check,'" said O'Neal. "I just want everybody to go check with your physician, consult with your doctor, just see."
On TODAY, O'Neal stressed how heart failure, a form of heart disease, is much more common among African-Americans. Ofili echoed the need for awareness.
"We have a significant disparity," said Ofili. "The evidence out there from clinical studies shows that African-Americans do have a higher risk in terms of getting the disease but also, more importantly, when we have the disease, there are problems with awareness, as well as access to treatment."
Ofili went on to explain that there are multiple causes for this, including family history and the way blood vessels may work. According to the American Heart Association, African-Americans are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and are disproportionately impacted by obesity and diabetes, which can lead to increased risk of heart disease.
For African-American women, the numbers are even more startling: For African-American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases, yet only one in five women believe they are personally at risk, according to the American Heart Association. Only 36 percent know that heart disease is their greatest health risk.
"The big, big message is to say to people heart disease is still the number one killer, of everyone," Ofili emphasized.
Ofili and O'Neal have been working to spread this message and information.
"She gave me some information that I had no idea was going on," said O'Neal, who said that he does not have any risks for heart failure, but is passionate about educating the community. "I felt that I wanted to be the one to lend the voice so that people, especially African-Americans, know that this is really serious, that we've got to take it seriously, we've got to start consulting with our doctors."
Ofili also discussed how important it is to know one's risk factors, including family health history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes keeping track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, both of which can be indicators of heart disease.
The organization also recommends maintaining a healthy diet, not smoking and staying physically active, which can all prevent heart disease. Annual visits to a doctor can help you stay on track, and make sure that all risks are being monitored.
"I've been calling myself 'Superman' since I was 17 years old," said O'Neal. "I don't have a family physician, never had a doctor. The only time I went to a doctor was when I had an injury, so I probably have to get one of those very soon."
Shaquille O'Neal is a spokesperson for Arbor Pharmaceuticals and teamed up with the company for their "Shaq Gets Real" campaign.