Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most
Health care disparities heighten disease differences between African-Americans and white Americans.
By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario
Several deadly diseases strike black Americans harder and more often than they do white Americans.
Fighting back means genetic research. It means changing the system for testing new drugs. It means improving health education. It means overcoming disparities in health care. It means investments targeted to the health of black Americans. And the evidence so far indicates that these investments will pay health dividends not just for racial minorities, but for everyone.
Yet we're closer to the beginning of the fight than to the end. Some numbers:
Genes definitely play a role. So does the environment in which people live, socioeconomic status -- and, yes, racism, says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, associate dean of clinical affairs and medical director for heart failure/transplantation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Yancy says that all humans have the same physiology, are vulnerable to the same illnesses, and respond to the same medicines. Naturally, diseases and responses to treatment do vary from person to person. But, he says, there are unique issues that affect black Americans.
"We must recognize there are some arbitrary issues that are present in the way we practice medicine and dole out health care," Yancy tells WebMD. "It forces us to think very carefully about the very volatile issue of race and what race means. At the end of the day, all of us acknowledge that race is a very poor physiological construct. Race is a placeholder for something else. That something is less likely to be genetic. It is more likely to have to do with socioeconomics and political issues of bias as well as physiologic and genetic issues that go into that same bucket. Some racial differences are more nuances. But there are issues of disparity and there are issues relative to racism that operate in a very broad context."
Like Yancy, LeRoy M. Graham Jr., MD, says the time is ripe for Americans to come to grips with these issues. Graham, a pediatric lung expert, serves on the American Lung Association's board of directors, is associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and serves as staff physician for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
"I just think we as physicians need to get more impassioned," Graham tells WebMD. "There are health disparities. There are things that may have more sinister origins in institutionalized racism. But we as doctors need to spend more time recognizing these disparities and addressing them -- together with our patients -- on a very individual level."
Black Americans and Lung Disease
A 2005 report from the American Lung Association shows that black Americans suffer far more lung disease than white Americans do.
Some of the findings: