Health Disparities in African Americans and What to Do About Them
Last year we touched on how racism affects African American health, but there are notable health disparities between African Americans and the rest of the population. According to the CDC, younger African Americans live with or die of many conditions typically found in white Americans at older ages. There are many other compelling statistics of the health conditions African Americans face at a higher rate. Let’s take a look at all the health disparities in African Americans and how we can combat them.
What is a health disparity?
According to the CDC, “Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. Health disparities are inequitable and are directly related to the historical and current unequal distribution of social, political, economic, and environmental resources.”
We know that with the current climate and the COVID-19 pandemic, African Americans’ health disparities were magnified by disproportionate COVID-19 rates. People with underlying health conditions are particularly at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 and even death. This revealed a gaping wound of the already long history of health disparities in African Americans.
History and Health Disparities
Health disparities were addressed back in 1899 with W.E.B Du Bois’s sociological study, The Philidelphia Negro, where he assessed the health of the non-white community. In 1906 with W.E.B. Du Bois The Health and Physique of the Negro American he took it a little further.
In 1915, Booker T Washington brought up compelling facts regarding the disease risks and deaths disproportionately prevalent amongst African Americans in his conference for the improvement of health conditions amongst African Americans. He also launched Negro Health Week to raise awareness of and provide information to the black community. Looking to now, there has been a 25% decrease in deaths of African Americans due to chronic illness, but we are still disproportionate compared to other communities.
What are the primary health disparities?
48% of African American adults are obese, and about 20% of children are obese. Obesity is a risk factor for many chronic conditions including, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. To add to this, 50.3% of adults are physically inactive, which adds to the probability of developing a chronic illness.
African Americans are 60% more likely to develop diabetes and twice as likely to die from it than whites.
The American Heart Association notes that high blood pressure is the highest in the world for African Americans. There are 40% of black men and women living with high blood pressure, which is known to be a risk factor for severe forms of COVID-19. Furthermore, an astonishing 60% of black women have high blood pressure compared to white women. In addition, African Americans ages 18-49 are more likely to die from heart disease than whites (CDC). Finally, the prevalence of stroke is higher in African Americans.
Although breast cancer rates are higher in white women than black women, the probability of death is higher in black women. They tend to develop more aggressive forms disproportionately. The American Cancer Society mentions, “African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group for most cancers. African American men also have the highest cancer incidence.”
What Causes Health Disparities?
We know that with medical care, there are reported racial bias’. Black women said that they experienced racial discrimination at their doctors’ visits. In addition, we also know the misconception of the high tolerance of pain perceived in black Americans, and therefore they are not believed when they complain of issues. This leads to distrust in medical providers.
The health disparities also result in lower-quality care, which results from lack of insurance coverage, lack of financial resources, legal barriers with public insurance, lack of transportation to medical care, inability to schedule timely appointments. Finally, on another note, health literacy appears to be a factor in understanding their care.
How to Shorten Health Disparities
Shortening the health disparities in the African American community depends on many factors. You can control your behaviors to lower your risk of developing chronic conditions through:
- Getting the recommended amounts of physical activity
- Eating a nutrient-dense diet.
- Going to the doctor regularly.
- Actively seeking education about your health.
- Asking questions to your healthcare providers
- Finding a doctor that understands your needs
What professionals and the governments can do
- Provide access to high-quality education
- Provide opportunities for suitable housing
- Provide reliable public transportation
- Support cultural awareness in healthcare providers
- Offer equal health insurance and quality healthcare centers in underserved communities.
- Support and create programs for healthy food environments
- Increase opportunities for physical activities in underserved communities
- Connect with community organizations to provide programming to reduce health disparities
- Train community health workers to educate their peers.
This post is just an overview of the health disparities African Americans face. The purpose is to bring attention to others that this is an issue, and action needs to take place to support the community. If you are tired of repeatedly discussing the same problems, you have to ask yourself what you can do to reduce the health risks in the black community?