E. Faye Williams: Issues of health (Part 2)

Dr. E. Faye Williams

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – If I have not been clear, I believe that the best possible health for everyone should be the aim of a just and responsible society.  Last week’s article ended with the following statistics from an NAACP Crisis article:

  • 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.?

The negative health impact of racism is not gender specific.  Societal expectations of “the strong Black woman” create circumstances whereby the health impact of racism upon Black women is underestimated or ignored.  According to a March 2023 US News and World Report article, Black women who are exposed to certain forms of racism may be more likely to develop heart disease. 

Researchers tracked more than 48,000 women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study from 1997 to 2019. None had heart disease in 1997. During 22 years of follow-up, 1,947 women developed heart disease.  Heart disease risk wasn’t tied to experiences of racism in everyday life, but women who reported experiencing racism in employment, housing and in their interaction with police were at higher risk of heart disease compared with those women who answered no to all three questions on structural racism.

  Black women who said they faced discrimination in employment, housing and in their interactions with the police were 26 percent more likely to develop heart disease than their counterparts who had not experienced such structural racism.  (Structural (or Institutional) racism refers to the ways that a society fosters racial discrimination through housing, education, employment, health care and criminal justice systems.)  “Chronic psychosocial stressors such as racism increase levels of inflammation, blood pressure and other risks for heart disease,” said study author Shanshan Sheehy. She is an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

Many Black adults are already at higher risk of developing heart disease due to high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, so it’s important that they do all that they can to improve their heart health. “Keeping blood pressure in the normal range, not smoking, leading a physically active life, and sleeping well are good for your heart,” Sheehy added.

Among our unresolved and disturbing aspects of “Black” Health Issues are Maternal and Infant Mortality.  According to the CDC: “Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.”

The New York Times ran a recent article:

“Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds: The study…by the National Bureau of Economic Research, includes nearly all the infants born to first-time mothers from 2007 to 2016 in California, the state with the most annual births…it combines income tax data with birth, death and hospitalization records and demographic data.”

It also states: “Black mothers and babies have the worst childbirth outcomes in the United States. But this study is novel because it’s the first of its size to show how the risks of childbirth vary by both race and parental income and how Black families, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are disproportionately affected.  The richest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as the richest White mothers and their babies.”

May is Mental Health Month.  Next week, in Part 3, we’ll discuss issues related to Black Mental Health and I will bring a layman’s perspective to initiating resolution to health issues affecting Black people.

(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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