A new report from the CDC brings some positive news about the health of African Americans: The death rate for African American adults declined by 25 percent between 1999 and 2015, with the largest declines in those older than 63. But the news remains mixed: African Americans are still more likely to die prematurely than white Americans. And while the gap in life expectancy between the two groups has narrowed, it remains 3.5 years lower for African Americans than for white Americans (75.6 for an African American born in 2014 vs. 79 years for a white American. In 2000, the expectancies were roughly 72 years and 77 years, respectively).
The report expressed concern about the health status of younger African Americans in particular. According to the CDC, African American adults between ages 20 and 50 are more likely to die from health conditions that typically don’t affect white adults until later in life. For instance, African Americans ages 18 to 49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease as white Americans in the same age group. African Americans between ages 35 and 64 are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure—a risk factor for heart disease and stroke—than whites the same age. Younger African Americans are also more likely to have type 2 diabetes.
Racial health disparities in the U.S. are largely attributed to differences in economicand social circumstances. African Americans are more likely to be uninsured, for example, and therefore less able to access health care. Many risk factors for diseases therefore go undetected or unnoticed.
The CDC report urges public health professionals to use proven programs to reduce disparities and to engage community organizations to help create conditions that promote health. It also recommends training doctors to understand cultural differences in how patients interact with their providers.
Also see The Social Dynamics of Health.