Top Health Concerns Among African Americans WEB

Top Health Concerns Among African Americans

Race and ethnicity sometimes influence what illnesses and diseases we are susceptible to developing. Genetics can be a factor, but so can disparities in education, income, health insurance coverage, and access to healthcare services, among others. In this series, we will look at some of the top health concerns and disparities facing racial and ethnic populations in the United States today, starting with African Americans.Unfortunately, health disparities are common among racial and ethnic minorities in the United states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes, “Health disparities between African Americans and other racial and ethnic populations are striking and apparent in life expectancy, death rates, infant mortality, and other measures of health status and risk conditions and behaviors.”[1]

Statistical highlights from the 2013 CDC Health Disparities & Inequalities Report support this statement[2]:

  • In 2009, across age groups younger than 85 years old, African Americans had the largest death rates from heart disease and stroke compared with other racial and ethnic population.
  • From 2007 to 2010, African American adults had the largest prevalence of obesity compared to other race ethnicity groups.
  • In 2010, African American adults had nearly twice the prevalence of diabetes as that of white adults.
  • Infants of African American women had the largest death rate—more than twice that of infants of white women—in 2008.
  • In 2009, African Americans had the largest homicide death rates among all racial and ethnic populations—African American males had the largest rates among all age groups
  • African American life expectancy averaged 75.3 years, compared with 78.8 years for the average white American, in 2011; the CDC reports that this gap is narrowing

Additional health disparities between African Americans and other racial and ethnic populations were associated with periodontitis, activity limitations caused by chronic conditions, HIV, incidence and death rates from colorectal cancer, completing high school, living below the poverty level, unemployment, and lack of health insurance. The CDC listed discrimination, cultural barriers, and lack of access to healthcare among the contributing factors to these poor health outcomes.[3]

Leading causes of death among African Americans

The top five leading causes of death for African Americans, according to CDC data, include[4]:

  1. Heart Disease According to the American Heart Association, the prevalence of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, in African Americans is the highest in the world.[5] Among non-hispanic blacks age 20 and older, 42,6 percent of men and 47 percent of women have high blood pressure.
  1. Cancer The Department of Health and Human Services reports that African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for cancer generally and for most major cancers individually, including stomach, liver, prostate and colon cancers.[6]
  1. Stroke — 3 percent of non-Hispanic black men age 20 and older and 4.7 percent of non-Hispanic black women age 20 and older have had a stroke, according to the AHA.[7] This population has a first-ever stroke risk twice that of whites and, in 2009, faced a substantially higher overall death rate for stroke—60.1 percent for black men and 50.2 percent for black women, compared with 38.9 percent for the overall population.
  1. Diabetes — African Americans are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have diabetes.[8] The American Diabetes Association calls diabetes “one of the most serious health problems the African American community faces today.”[9] To address the disproportionate affects of diabetes on this population, the ADA has created awareness programs to help draw attention to the issue and provide resources.
  1. Unintentional injuries — Between 2005 and 2009, the unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than whites across all ages, but the rate among African American children ages 5 to 14 was almost three times that of white children.[10] Unintentional injury deaths may also be related to motor vehicle accidents, falls, firearms, suffocation, bites, stings, sports and recreational activities, natural disasters, burns or fires, and poisonings.[11]

Obesity is a risk factor in three of the five top causes of death among African Americans—diabetes, heart disease and stroke—and it ranks as a top health concern for African Americans.[12] According to the American Heart Association, 63 percent of non-Hispanic black men age 20 and older and 77 percent of women overweight or obese.[13] The HHS Office of Minority Health reports that African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese.[14]

Kidney diseases (nephritis, nephrotic syndrom and nephrosis), chronic lower respiratory disease, homicide, septicemia (blood infection), and Alzheimer’s disease completed the top 10 causes of death among African Americans.

Lack of insurance may be key to health disparities

According to The Department of Health & Human Services’ “HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities,” The Institute of Medicine’s 2002 report “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in HealthCare” identified lack of insurance as a key cause of healthcare disparities.[15] The HHS Action plan stated, “Lack of insurance, more than any other demographic or economic barrier, negatively affects the quality of health care received by minority populations. Racial and ethnic minorities are significantly less likely than the rest of the population to have health insurance.”

A 2014 Commonwealth Fund survey found that, following the Latino population, African Americans were the second-largest demographic of uninsured and remained so following the Affordable Care Act’s first open-enrollment period.[16] Approximately 21 percent of African Americans were uninsured between July and Sept. 2013.[17] That number dropped slightly to 20 percent as between April and June 2014 following open enrollment. For comparison, 36 percent of Latinos were uninsured between July and Sept. 2013, which dropped to 23 percent between April and June 2014; 16 percent of white Americans were uninsured between July and Sept. 2013, which dropped to 12 percent between April and June 2014.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 62 percent of uninsured African Americans have incomes at or below the Medicaid expansion limit of 138 percent of the federal poverty level; however, as of June 2013, nearly 6 in 10 of these uninsured individuals lived in states that did not plan to expand Medicaid.[18] If all states expanded Medicaid, HHS predicts that 95 percent of eligible uninsured Africa Americans might qualify for Medicaid, CHIP and other programs to lower the cost of health insurance purchased through state exchanges and the federal marketplace.

Preventive care matters

While we cannot control our genetics and family history, we can address controllable risk factors (e.g., weight, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, stress) through lifestyle changes (e.g., diet, exercise, stress management).

Know your health risks, talk to your doctor about them, and do what you can in your day-to-day life to minimize them. Your healthcare providers are key to disease prevention, as well as early detection and treatment. Stay up to date with preventive care—many preventive services cost nothing if you have ACA-compliant health insurance(e.g., qualified health insurance plans sold through the state exchanges and the federal marketplace, as well as the private marketplace) . Your doctor will decide what tests and screenings apply to you. It is worth noting that, as a result of the ACA, 7.8 million African American with private health insurance now have access to extended preventive care at no additional cost.[19]

Be sure to discuss health concerns with you doctor during preventive care visits, and schedule an appointment as soon as possible if you notice changes to your health throughout the year.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Black or African American Populations: 10 Leading Causes of Death for African Americans.” Last reviewed and updated Feb. 10, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/populations/REMP/black.html.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Black or African American Populations: Examples of Important Health Disparities.” Last reviewed and updated Feb. 10, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/populations/REMP/black.html.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Black or African American Populations: 10 Leading Causes of Death for African Americans.” Last reviewed and updated Feb. 10, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/populations/REMP/black.html.

[5] American Heart Association. “African-Americans and Heart Disease, Stroke.” Updated Sept. 30, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/African-Americans-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_444863_Article.jsp.

[6] Department of Health & Human Services. “The Affordable Care Act and African Americans.” Last reviewed Nov. 5, 2014. http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/factsheets/2012/04/aca-and-african-americans04122012a.html.

[7] American Heart Association. “Statistical Fact Sheet: African Americans & Cardiovascular Disease.” 2013. http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319568.pdf.

[8] Ibid.

[9] American Diabetes Association. “Live Empowered/African American Programs.” http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/awareness-programs/african-american-programs/?loc=ContentPage-advo-disparities.

[10] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts.” Last updated Oct. 24, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html.

[11] California Department of Public Health. “Unintentional Injury Death Data Trends for Years 2000-2010.” http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/ohir/Pages/UnInjury2010Print.aspx.

[12] Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Minority Health. “Obesity and African Americans.” Oct. 15, 2013. http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=25.

[13] American Heart Association. “African-Americans and Heart Disease, Stroke.” Updated Sept. 30, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/African-Americans-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_444863_Article.jsp.

[14] Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Minority Health. “Obesity and African Americans.” Oct. 15, 2013. http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=25.

[15] Department of Health & Human Services. “HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.” April 2011. http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/npa/files/Plans/HHS/HHS_Plan_complete.pdf.

[16] Collins, Sara R., Rasmussen, Petra W., Doty, Michelle M. “Gaining Ground: Americans’ Health Insurance Coverage and Access to Care After the Affordable Care Act’s First Open Enrollment Period.” July 2014. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/files/publications/issue-brief/2014/jul/1760_collins_gaining_ground_tracking_survey.pdf.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Department of Health & Human Services. “The Affordable Care Act and African Americans.” Last reviewed Nov. 5, 2014. http://www.hhs.gov/healthcare/facts/factsheets/2012/04/aca-and-african-americans04122012a.html.

[19] Ibid.

About Jenifer Dorsey

Jenifer Dorsey is a regular contributor to HealthCare.com. She has covered health insurance and health and fitness for more than five years. In her free time she is a competitive track cyclist and loves to travel, especially to places with velodromes.

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