Health Disparities in African Americans and What to Do About Them Now

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We know that racism affects African American health, but there are notable health disparities between African Americans and the rest of the population.

African Americans are at a higher risk for a number of preventable and chronic health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity, compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. According to the CDC, younger African Americans live with or die of many conditions typically found in white Americans at older ages. This disparity is due to several factors, including socioeconomic status, education, and access to healthcare.

While the overall health of African Americans has improved in recent years, the health disparities between them and other groups have remained essentially unchanged. In order to reduce these disparities, it is important to address the social and economic factors that contribute to them. Let’s look at all the health disparities in African Americans and how we can combat them.

What are health disparities?

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.”

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 were 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 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’s 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 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. Additionally, 50.3% of adults are physically inactive, increasing the probability of developing a chronic illness.


African Americans are 60% more likely to develop diabetes than whites and twice as likely to die from it.

Cardiovascular Disease

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 and other viruses. 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 in 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?

Many factors contribute to the health disparities experienced by African Americans. These include socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, education level, and access to healthcare. We know that with medical care, there are reported racial biases’. For example, black women have said they experienced racial discrimination during doctor visits. In addition, we also know the misconception of the high tolerance of pain perceived in black Americans; therefore, they are not believed when they complain of issues. This leads to distrust in medical providers.


African Americans are more likely to face obstacles to obtaining healthcare, such as higher insurance premiums and limited access to specialists and healthcare facilities. 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, and inability to schedule timely appointments. Finally, on another note, health literacy appears to be a factor in understanding their care. These factors contribute to the higher rates of preventable and chronic conditions experienced by African Americans.

How to Reduce Health Disparities

In order to reduce health disparities in African Americans, it is crucial to address the underlying social and economic factors that contribute to them. This can be done through several public health initiatives, such as improving access to healthcare, increasing education and awareness about health risks, and providing resources for healthy living. Improving access to healthcare is an important first step in reducing health disparities among African Americans. This can include providing health insurance through public programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and special subsidies and tax credits for those who cannot afford private insurance.

In addition, increasing the number of culturally competent healthcare providers, particularly those specializing in chronic conditions, can also help reduce disparities. It is also important to raise awareness and increase educational opportunities about health risks in African American communities. This can include providing education about health concerns, such as chronic illnesses and mental health, as well as nutrition and physical activity. It is also vital to increase access to healthy foods in disadvantaged communities and provide resources to help individuals adopt healthy lifestyles.

The Role of Public Health in Reducing Health Disparities in African Americans

Public health plays an essential role in reducing health disparities in African Americans. Public health initiatives, such as disease prevention and health promotion, have been shown to reduce disparities and improve overall health outcomes. Public health initiatives like vaccinations, screenings, and outreach programs help identify and address community health problems. In addition, public health programs can also help to improve access to healthcare by providing resources, such as health insurance and cultural competence training, to healthcare providers. Public health can also help to raise awareness about health risks and provide resources for healthy lifestyles.

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 must be taken 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. Reducing health disparities in African Americans is an important public health issue that requires continued commitment and effort to address.

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