African-Americans Are No Strangers to Health Disparities

African-Americans Are No Strangers to Health Disparities

The CDC says that infant mortality, obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease top the list.

Published July 25, 2011

Gone are the days of debating whether or not health disparities among people of color in this country are fact or fiction.


"The evidence of health disparities would be easy to ignore were they not so well-documented," said Stephen B. Thomas, director of the Center for Health Equity and a professor of health services administration in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland told HealthDay. "Members of racial minority groups live sicker and die younger than their white counterparts."


But which diseases top the list as the ones that we pose the greatest risk factors for?


HealthDay reported that according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the largest health disparities exist in:


Infant mortality. The infant death rate among African-Americans and American Indians is more than double that of whites.


Obesity. African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are more likely than whites in the United States to be obese, a condition that increases the chances of developing a number of other health problems.


Diabetes. Hispanics in the United States are nearly twice as likely to die from diabetes as are whites. American Indians have a diabetes rate equal to that of whites.


Cardiovascular disease. Death rates from heart disease are more than 40 percent higher for African-Americans than for whites.


Cancer. The death rate for all cancers is 30 percent higher for African-Americans than it is for whites. African-American women have a higher death rate from breast cancer, even though they are screened for breast cancer at nearly the same rate as white women. "More white women develop breast cancer, but more Black women die from breast cancer," Thomas said.


This shouldn't really shock us especially given that experts have been pointing to these particular health issues for years. What saddens me is that these diseases for the most part are preventable.


So in the end, perhaps the most important aspect of dealing with health disparities is coming up with ways to narrow those gaps. If systematic oppression, economic instability and lack of access to healthy affordable foods and quality health care are what got us here, what can be done to right those wrongs? 


How can we ensure that we are employed at jobs that actually offer us health care? (African-Americans are more likely to have jobs with no coverage.) How can we ensure that fast food chains and corner stores that sell food with very little nutritional value are not the only places where we can buy food? How can we make neighborhoods safer so that people can go outside and be active instead of fearing for their lives? How can we ensure that communities of color have doctors who have offices in their neighborhoods?


With more and more programs coming into fruition like the creation of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and health care reform, hopefully we will see more of a change in the next decade. But I often still wonder is that going to be enough in the end to really help us be healthy?

 (Photo: Chicago Tribune/MCT/Landov)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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