The month of February is recognized nationally as Black History Month, making it a time to celebrate the history, stories, and culture that are integral to the Black community. During this time it is equally important to acknowledge the struggles that are unique to Black people in America, so that progress can continue to be made.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few medical conditions that disproportionately affect Black Americans. The health issues below have some of the largest gaps, either in diagnosis or mortality rates. Understanding more about each topic, analyzing why a disparity exists, and learning ways to prevent and treat these diseases is critical.
One of the most widespread chronic conditions in the United States is diabetes — and it’s even more prevalent in the Black community. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cites the National Health Interview Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census Bureau, which reports 11.7% of non-Hispanic Black individuals have diabetes, as opposed to just 7.5% of non-Hispanic white people aged 18 and up.
There are many possible reasons that account for this difference, including a genetic predisposition for diabetes. But beyond that, minority groups are faced with additional risk factors. Socioeconomic status, access to health care, and cultural attitudes can also impact both diagnosis and treatment. Combined, these elements often mean that diabetes progresses faster, and is more deadly for minorities.
As the fifth leading cause of death in America, strokes happen once every 40 seconds. Black individuals are at an even greater risk for this condition, which happens when blood flow to the brain is restricted. In fact, the American Stroke Association identifies that Black people have the highest death rate from stroke than any other racial group.
It is not completely understood why the Black community is at such a heightened risk. That said, there are a number of risk factors that may be at play, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, sickle cell anemia, smoking, and stress. A healthy daily lifestyle is recommended for stroke prevention.
Though it comes in many forms, certain types of cancer disproportionately affect the Black community. Studies show that Black men are up to 1.5 times more likely to have colon and prostate cancer and up to 1.8 times more likely to have stomach cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white men. They’re also twice as likely to die from both, with a lower 5-year cancer survival rate across the board.
Black women also face increased cancer risks of their own. While they are just as likely as non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with breast cancer, they are 40% more likely to die from the disease. The Office of Minority Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also reports that Black women are twice as likely to both be diagnosed with stomach cancer and die from the same cause.
Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is extremely prevalent for Black Americans. The American Heart Association states more than 40% of non-Hispanic African-Americans have high blood pressure. That statistic is even more sobering when coupled with the fact that this condition typically develops earlier in life for Black patients, and becomes more severe.
Like many of the health disparities faced by the Black community, research is ongoing to explain why this difference exists. Some studies have found a specific gene that makes Black people more sensitive to salt. This would directly affect blood pressure and likely also affect conditions like obesity, diabetes, and even stroke as well.