Feature Archive

Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most

Health care disparities heighten disease differences between African-Americans and white Americans.

By Daniel DeNoon
WebMD Feature

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:

  • Diabetes is 60% more common in black Americans than in white Americans. Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to 5.6 times more likely to suffer kidney disease than other people with diabetes.
  • African-Americans are three times more likely to die of asthma than white Americans.
  • Deaths from lung scarring -- sarcoidosis -- are 16 times more common among blacks than among whites. The disease recently killed former NFL star Reggie White at age 43.
  • Despite lower tobacco exposure, black men are 50% more likely than white men to get lung cancer.
  • Strokes kill 4 times more 35- to 54-year-old black Americans than white Americans. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of whites.
  • Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life -- and with much higher blood pressure levels -- than whites. Nearly 42% of black men and more than 45% of black women aged 20 and older have high blood pressure.
  • Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than white men. African-American women have a 20% higher cancer death rate than white women.