Health Disparities in the African American Community

By Erika Bailey, UWO Health Promotion Intern

Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.Between 2015 and now, there have been quite a few campaigns launched surrounding what’s been coined “Black Health,” such as Better Black Health and Black Health Matters. These campaigns were designed to raise awareness about the health disparities experienced in African American communities. For the same reasons men and women have different health needs, different racial and ethnic backgrounds can also create a need for different preventative actions and treatments.

According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest cancer death rate and shortest survival time of any ethnic group in the United States. A Huffington Post article discussing the launch of Better Black Health states “Nationally, black women are 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer following a diagnosis compared to white women” and that “African Americans are 20 times more likely to suffer from cardiac failure before the age of 50.” The CDC has annually reported higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, and death in African American populations since 2005 when it was first noted.

There are preeminent risk factors that correlate with these disparities as well. The CDC also reports annually that African Americans have higher instances of poverty and unemployment, and in turn are more likely to experience barriers to health care such as cost.

According to Dr. Mercedes R. Carnethon from Northwestern University Preventive Medicine, African American groups develop all types of cardiovascular diseases at a much earlier ages than all other ethnic groups and are therefore more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases because of the extended time spent living with them. She goes on to note that these disparities are most likely occurring due to the lack of preventative care at the appropriate ages.

Among black men, 19% - nearly one in five - will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and 5% of those will die from the disease.

But it should also be noted that only 5% of clinical trial patients are African American. It’s possible that unknown genetic predispositions are also at play. There are a variety of factors that determine one’s health, including environment, lifestyle choices, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, culture, and genetics; it is difficult to determine causation. However, it is necessary to understand these differences in health needs in order to impact the health disparity rates among groups of our population.