Diseases don’t spare anyone. All around us, children and the elderly, rich and poor, male and female are daily affected. Still, certain segments of society are more vulnerable to illness. Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with certain illnesses than their white counterparts. The reasons for this are complex and multifaceted, stemming from a range of factors including systemic racism and social determinants of health like disparities in access to healthcare, housing, employment, education, food security and social support networks. Black people are more likely than white people to face social and economic inequities that negatively impact health. Here are some of the key diseases that disproportionately affect black people.
Black people have lower rates of heart disease than white people but are more likely to die from it. They are also more likely to get heart disease at a younger age. One of the reasons when it comes to Black Americans is that they have higher rates of the major risk factors including hypertension, obesity, and diabetes.
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The rate of death from breast cancer is 40% higher among black women than white women and black women are more likely to get it younger. One of the reasons is that black women are more prone to triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) which is more difficult to treat than other forms. Black men are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime than other men. They are also 2.5 times more likely to die from it. Prostate cancer in black men is often more aggressive likely because of genetics. Despite lower tobacco exposure, black men are 50% more likely to get lung cancer than white men. While cancer treatment is equally successful for all races, black men have a 40% higher death rate than white men and black women have 20% higher cancer death rate than white women.
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Black adults are twice as likely as their white counterparts to develop type 2 diabetes. This is when your body cannot produce enough insulin to keep your blood sugar levels down. This disparity is due to genetics, high obesity rates and socioeconomic factors.
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In the US, black adults are more likely to have obesity than their white counterparts. Two of the main reasons are economic and geographic factors. Income disparities affect people’s ability to buy healthy food options.
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One 2018 study in the US and dependent areas found that black people accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses. A related study found that black people who were diagnosed with HIV are less likely than other groups to be linked to healthcare, retained in healthcare, receive antiretroviral treatment and achieve adequate viral suppression.
High blood pressure
55% of black adults in the Us have high blood pressure or hypertension. This is one of the highest rates in the world. Black people also get it younger than other races. Two major contributing factors are stress and racial discrimination.
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Black people are more likely to have strokes and their strokes tend to be more severe compared to patients of other ethnicities. One key reason is genetics. Another is hypertension or high blood pressure. Because black people are more likely to develop hypertension and when they’re younger, this increases their likelihood of stroke.
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Sickle cell anaemia
Sickle cell anaemia is a rare genetic disease that affects haemoglobin in your red blood cells, affecting how much oxygen is delivered to your organs and tissues. Disparities in access to healthcare further complicate the lives of patients living with this lifelong condition with symptoms starting in childhood.
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Black people in the US are three times more likely to have kidney failure than white people. One of the reasons is because the risk factors include diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure which disproportionately affect black people. The key to management is early detection and because most black people are uninsured or lack access to quality healthcare, it may go undetected until it’s in the final stages.
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Asthma occurs when the airways in your lungs narrow, making it difficult to breathe. This condition mostly affects children in communities with poor air quality. Because of environmental racism, black people are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of air pollution. It is 50% more common among black people than white people.
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During the early days of the covid 19 pandemic, black people were thrice as likely to be admitted to the hospital as white people and twice as likely to die. Many of the pre-existing conditions like obesity and sickle cell made black people more susceptible to infection. Even after vaccines were rolled out, black people were less likely than white people to be vaccinated because of a variety of reasons including medical mistrust because of the historical injustices suffered by black people in the name of healthcare and vaccines.
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You can’t control everything and there are no guarantees, but there are things you can do to try and protect your health:
- Eat a balanced diet
- Regularly engage in physical activity
- Maintain a moderate weight
- Limit your salt and alcohol intake
- Find ways to manage your stress
- Quit smoking if you do
- Regularly check your blood pressure and take steps to moderate it
- Stay up to date on your vaccinations
- Screen for cancers when recommended for your age and level of risk
- Make any necessary lifestyle adjustments to reduce your cancer risk
- Use protection when engaging in sexual intercourse and consider taking PreP if you’re at risk of HIV exposure
- Know your family history
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