Black History Month: Spotlight on health disparities in the black community



By Paige Langenderfer, CRH Contributor

During Black History Month, we celebrate the rich history of the black community. It is also a good time to consider the unique health challenges the black community faces.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), members of the black community in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are more likely to live with or die from conditions that typically occur at older ages in white people, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The following information, listed on the CDC website, details various health challenges faced by the black community.

●       Black persons ages 35-64 are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than white persons.

●       Black persons ages 18-49 years, are two times as likely to die from heart disease as white persons.

●       Black persons have the highest death rate for all cancers combined compared with white persons.

●       Nearly half of all African American adults have some form of cardiovascular disease that includes heart disease and stroke.

●       About two out of every five African American adults have high blood pressure, and less than half of them have it under control.

●       African American adults are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attacks, and stroke deaths than white adults.

●       Cancer is the second leading cause of death among black people in the United States.

Sandcrest Family Medicine Family Physician Dr. Iyabo Olatunde, MD, said that many of these challenges can be traced back to health disparities in the black community.

“Health disparities within the black community are generally driven by social determinants of health: lack of education, decreased health literacy, lack of access to proper healthcare, lack of health coverage, transportation issues, income instability, debt, fear of discrimination, distrust of the system, etc.,” Dr. Olatunde said.

Dr. Olatunde

“The US healthcare system becomes almost impossible to navigate when the above barriers are in place. Black people are disproportionately affected by these barriers which leads to poor health outcomes and further re-enforces these barriers. It becomes a cycle.”

Dr. Olatunde said that lifestyle choices also strongly affect health outcomes.

“It’s important that black people educate themselves on these conditions and their risk factors, get established with a primary care physician, and ask lots of questions during your doctor visits,” she said. “Your doctor’s office can help you find great resources either in the community or through the hospital that can help address any of those barriers.”

Coinciding with Black History Month, February is also American Heart Month. This connection is fitting considering that heart disease disproportionately impacts the black community. The following list from the American Heart Association includes strategies for reducing the risk of heart disease.

●       Eat a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Choose foods low in saturated fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

●       Exercise regularly. Adults need 150 minutes of exercise each week.

●       Be smoke-free. If you are ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free resources, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to other resources where you live.

●       Limit alcohol use. Alcohol use has been linked to long-term health problems, including heart disease and cancer.

●       Know your family history. There may be factors that could increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

●       Manage any medical conditions you might have.

Visit to learn more. By learning more about health and reducing health disparities, we can create better health for all Americans.

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