E. Faye Williams: Issues of health (Pt. 1)

Dr. E. Faye Williams

(TriceEdneyWire.com)—The names Ralph Yarl, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, and, undoubtedly, thousands of other African Americans whose lives have been snuffed out with little or no concern shown by those with the power to effect legislative change, remain as unholy legacies to the violence routinely visited upon the African American community.

As much as I am greatly distressed by the wholesale slaughter of my people, I have equally somber remorse concerning our loss of life under the specter of poor health—both physical and mental.  For as long as I can remember to the present, it has not been unusual to hear African Americans speak of a “little sugar in the blood” or express their concern about the consumption of too much salt.  There are other disease processes that we are mistakenly conditioned to treat as routine or normal.  It’s way past time for us to take a serious look at addressing the health issues that reduce the quality of our lives or shorten them.

The month of April is National Minority Health Month and May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  These two months should give ample reasons for significant reflection on our part.  Arguably, we have little control over most of the external violence that affects us, but we have greater—although not ultimate—control over the ravages of poor health.

Referencing a November 2022 JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) study, Usha Lee McFarling, a national science correspondent for STAT, an American health-oriented news website, published an article entitled Brains of Black Americans age faster, study finds, with racial stressors a likely factor.

In her article, McFarling reports: The brains of Black adults in the U.S. age more quickly than those of White and Hispanic adults, showing features linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias as early as mid-life, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in JAMA Neurology, analyzed the MRI scans of nearly 1,500 participants from two racially and ethnically diverse cohorts. It found that Black adults in mid-life—on average, in their mid-50s—were more likely than White or Hispanic adults of the same age to have a higher prevalence of white matter lesions, markers of cerebrovascular disease that are associated with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research has established stark racial disparities in Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 6 million Americans. Hispanic people are 1.5 times more likely to have the disease than White people, while Black people are twice as likely to have the disease compared to those who are White. The new study strengthens the case that vascular disease may be especially detrimental to brain health in Black populations and may start to affect the brain far earlier in life than previously thought.

The researchers do not think the differences can be chalked up to genetic factors. They hypothesize that early brain aging in Black participants was linked to weathering—the accumulation of racial stressors over time due to discrimination, poverty, residential segregation, pollution, and fears about personal safety. Weathering has been linked to a number of poorer health outcomes, including depression, migraines, hypertension, and higher infant and maternal mortality.

An NAACP Crisis article, tells us:

  • Four in 10 Black men aged 20 or older have high blood pressure – 30 percent higher than White men.
  • Black men’s risk of stroke is 2x that of White men.
  • Black men experience 40 percent higher cancer deaths than White men.
  • Black Americans are 80 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized than Whites.

This information requires more space than I’m allowed weekly.  Next week, we’ll look deeper into the health of Black Women.

(Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of The Dick Gregory Society and President Emerita of the National Congress of Black Women)

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