African American vital signs: Five conditions to watch out for

ORLANDO, Fla. – February is Black History Month. This year’s theme is black health and wellness. And it’s true, race does play a role in the health problems a person is prone to face, the treatment they receive, and how likely they are to die from them.

The good news, African Americans are living longer as a group. The death rate declined by 25 percent in the past 15 years. But there are still some diseases this group is more at risk of being diagnosed with.

Getting to the heart of the problem is key for African Americans.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for this group. In fact, African Americans ages 18 to 49 are two times more likely to die from heart disease than whites. African Americans are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than non-Hispanic whites. And for black women, the numbers are worse.

Research suggests a gene may make them more salt sensitive. In the U.S., African Americans have the highest rate of being overweight or obese. This extra weight contributes to the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. That may be why diabetes is 60 percent more common among African Americans compared to whites, and the overall cancer mortality rate is higher for African Americans.

The top cancers for both blacks and whites are breast, colon, lung, prostate, and uterine cancers but getting early diagnosis and treatment is different between races. For example, despite similar rates of developing breast cancer, African American women are 40 percent more likely to die from it than white women. That’s why the move is on to educate doctors and African Americans about the importance of yearly health screenings and provide access to better healthcare.

Knowing the risks of these conditions can help you make positive changes to take control of your health. But it will take everyone to get involved to change these statistics. Along with doctors, community organizations, healthcare providers, public health experts, and government agencies all need to be part of the solution.