Health

African-Americans suffer from a host of health conditions caused by their history in the United States. This history begins with the transatlantic slave trade, in which Africans were brutally separated from their families, culture, and natural living environments, and shipped as cargo to be enslaved all over the world. Africans who died on the ships were thrown overboard, and slave owners collected insurance money for damage or death of slaves.

While the insurance of slaves was a huge business, the introduction of health insurance for Black people in America only came when slave owners needed them to be seen by doctors in order to get them back to work on the plantations. There was no wellness care for slaves, aside from what was required to return to work the fields and build wealth for the oppressor.

Today, the cost of adequate health insurance is extremely high. In addition, racial inequality and discrimination are built into the healthcare system itself. For example, the Food Pyramid, which is imposed upon us as early as preschool, is proven to be counterproductive to the Black community. Meanwhile, “food deserts” continue to plague Black communities, removing the opportunity for the proper nutrition the Black body needs.

The lack of trust in the health care systems within the Black community is rooted in the historical mistreatment and maltreatment our people. There are many examples of deliberate experimentation on Black people, including the Tuskegee Experiments conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service, the horrific maltreatment and experimentation of Henrietta Lacks in 1951, and experiments conducted on enslaved Black women with no anesthesia by J. Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology.”

The past mistreatment and continuing racial inequalities and discrimination have resulted in myriad health conditions that make us more prone to die and to be impacted by diseases. This has proved devastating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of these pre-existing health conditions include obesity, chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.

Sources: Slavery to Freedom – John Hope Franklin
The World and Africa – W.E.B Dubois

People who are overweight are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats, diabetes and LDL cholesterol – all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

  • African American women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to other groups in the United States.
  • About 4 out of 5 African American women are overweight or obese.
  • In 2018, African American women were 50 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic White women.
  • In 2018, African Americans were 20 percent less likely to engage in active physical activity as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
  • There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in obesity prevalence rates, with African Americans being 51% more likely to be obese compared to non-Hispanic Whites.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=25

Heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans, but it hits African Americans particularly hard and often much earlier in life than the general population.

  • Nearly half of African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, compared to one-third of White American adults
  • African American adults in general die earlier than other ethnic groups in this country, largely because of heart disease.
  • Children don’t escape the risks: 14% of African American kids already have high blood pressure — a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • In 2017, African Americans were 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic Whites.
  • African American women are 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, as compared to non-Hispanic White women.

Source: MedStar Health Cardiology Associates https://www.medstarheartinstitute.org/

According to the National Institutes of Health, Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) is too high. Blood glucose is the body’s main source of energy.

  • African American adults are 60% more likely than non-Hispanic White adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.
  • In 2017, African Americans were twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to die from diabetes.
  • In 2016, non-Hispanic Blacks were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with end stage renal disease as compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
  • In 2016, non-Hispanic Blacks were 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for lower limb amputations as compared to non-Hispanic Whites.

Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=18
National Institutes of Health https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/factors-contributing-higher-incidence-diabetes-black-americans

While all of the causes of asthma remain unclear, children exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke exposure are at increased risk for acute lower-respiratory tract infections, such as bronchitis. Children living below or near the poverty level are more likely to have high levels of blood cotinine, a breakdown product of nicotine, than children living in higher-income families.

  • In 2015, almost 2.6 million non-Hispanic Blacks reported that they currently have asthma.
  • African American women were 20 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic Whites, in 2015.
  • In 2014, African Americans were almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the White population.
  • In 2015, African American children had a death rate 10 times that of non-Hispanic White children.
  • Black children are 4 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma, as compared to non-Hispanic White children.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=15

African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. Death rates for all major causes of death are higher for African Americans than for non-Hispanic Whites, contributing in part to a lower life expectancy for both African American men and African American women.

  • From 2012-2016, African American men were 1.2 times and 1.7 times, respectively, more likely to have new cases of colon and prostate cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White men.
  • African American men were 1.7 times as likely to have stomach cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White men and 2.5 times more likely to die from stomach cancer.
  • African American men have lower 5-year survival rates for most cancers, as compared to non-Hispanic White men.
  • African American men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White men.
  • From 2012-2016, African American women were just as likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they were almost 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White women.
  • African American women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer, and they are 2.2 times as likely to die from stomach cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic White women.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=16

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death among the African American community.

  • African Americans are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke (cerebrovascular disease), as compared to their White adult counterparts.
  • Black men are 60 percent more likely to die from a stroke as compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
  • African American women are twice as likely to have a stroke as compared to non-Hispanic White women.

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