Community-wide Check It! Challenge programs in Central New York and Southern Tier see success in first year

Despite a global pandemic, the American Heart Association’s Check It! Challenge is making a difference in the fight to control a silent killer.

The association’s first community-wide Check It! Challenge in Central New York and the Southern Tier encouraged participants to regularly check their blood pressure and take steps to lower their numbers. The challenge ran for four months, starting in February (American Heart Month) through May (American Stroke Month).

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is known as a silent killer. It typically has no symptoms, but can lead to deadly health consequences such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. High blood pressure is when the systolic pressure (the top number) is at or above 130 mmHg AND/OR the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is a reading at or above 80 mmHg. About half of all Americans have high blood pressure, but many are unaware.

“Despite the multitude of challenges we faced in our inaugural year, the program was a success,” said Franklin Fry, executive director of the American Heart Association in Syracuse. “The program was interrupted by snowy weather in February that cancelled several events, and of course, a global pandemic. However, we have still been able to move the needle on our community’s blood pressure numbers.”

The Check It! Challenge program had more than 250 active participants in CNY using the online tracking tool. More than half of those had high blood pressure in their first reading. Among those with a decrease in blood pressure, there was an average drop of -10.3 mmHg; in line with the program’s goal to decrease systolic blood pressure by 10 points. Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading less than 120 mmHg AND a diastolic reading less than 80 mmHg.

In the Southern Tier, more than 400 active participants logged in. Nearly half had high blood pressure in the first reading. Participants in the Southern Tier dropped their blood pressure by an average of -10.5 points.

The Check It! Challenge is a community-wide program based on the American Heart Association’s Check. Change. Control. program. It is an evidence-based hypertension management program empowering participants to take ownership of their health using blood-pressure self-monitoring. The program incorporates the concepts of remote monitoring and online tracking as key features to hypertension management.

The challenge was open to individuals, employers or community organizations. More than 70 organizations in CNY and the Southern Tier offered the program to their employees and members.

Each month featured educational topics including how to manage blood pressure, healthy eating habits, physical activity and stress reduction, and knowing the signs of heart attack and stroke. Users can continue tracking their blood pressure, and new users can still register, at, using the campaign code CNYBP in CNY and using the campaign code UHSBP in the Southern Tier.

Participants were asked to take their blood pressure at least twice a month during the program. Blood pressure checks can be performed with at-home cuffs or at a doctor’s office. Before the coronavirus pandemic, checks were also available at public screening events and blood pressure kiosks found at most pharmacies and grocery stores.

Several local employers and organizations joined the challenge. In the Southern Tier, the program was sponsored by Life is Why sponsor UHS. Thanks to a sponsorship from KeyBank, Syracuse Community Connections hosted the American Heart Association’s Check It! Challenge program, along with ten months of heart health education and activities for residents of Syracuse’s south and west sides. Thanks to a sponsorship from Nascentia Health, paper blood pressure logs were available for those that needed them.