African-American men should know that smoking causes more bodily harm than just lung cancer; it also contributes to heart disease, a connection that Black men don’t often make. Although African-American men smoke a little less than their White counterparts, they tend not to be told by health professionals that they should quit smoking once they have been diagnosed with heart disease.
In the United States, 1.1 million people live with HIV. More than half a million of them are African-American, which is astounding because although Blacks only represent 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for about 44 percent of new HIV infections and an estimated 44 percent of people who are living with HIV. African-American men have the highest rate of new HIV infections, more than twice that of Latino men, which is the second-highest group. Black men need to do a better job of taking the necessary precautions when it comes to sexual activity. This means using condoms, being more selective of partners and screening them better, including making sure their partners are getting tested and then looking at those results. This doesn’t guarantee that your partner is not going to introduce potential risks in the relationship, but at least you will know as a starting baseline what the person’s HIV status is.
3. Sexual Dysfunction
This is extremely common for all men. There are psychological reasons, which means something is happening biologically. African-American men should not feel ashamed or stigmatized. We, as a society and particularly for African-American men, overcorrelate sexual performance and sexual dysfunction with one’s manhood and one’s strength and they are completely unrelated. Sexual dysfunction is not a sign of weakness. It is not restricted to older men; younger men face it, too. It can be a side effect of medications they’re taking.
In 2010, the most recent year we have reliable data, almost 4.5 million Blacks reported having asthma. African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to have asthma than non-Hispanic Whites, and they are three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes compared to Whites. African-American men must begin making sure their primary environment is as free of asthmatic irritants as possible. They need to get diagnosed and into treatment, which is very effective. Once getting a treatment regimen, men need to be compliant.
5. Obesity and Hypertension
The number of African-American men over the age of 20 who are obese stands at 38.1 percent. And when you look at the number of men who have hypertension, which is often related to obesity, it’s 37.6 percent. Black men have got to do a better job of consuming fewer calories per feeding opportunity, increasing the amount of physical activity and making wiser nutritional choices that include more fruits, vegetables, fiber, protein and whole grains. I discuss this a lot in my book Shred: The Revolutionary Diet.
6. Stress Relief
Black men need to participate in more stress-relieving activities such as meditation, yoga, extracurricular activities and hobbies. There is a huge relationship between stress and physical illness, but because of the pressures in our lives—discrimination, work and family—we do not participate in stress-relieving activities. We must pay attention to what the real implications are of stress and relief.
7. Prostate Cancer
Black men seem to have a higher rate of diagnosis of prostate cancer than other races, and they seem to have a more progressive form of this cancer. They need to be aware of the history of the disease in their family. They most likely should be screened at about the age of 40, so they can get a baseline. The screening should include two tests: the digital rectal exam, which is a manual exam that most men don’t like to get, and the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) exam.
African-American men have one of the highest rates of diabetes and have a disproportionate amount of diabetics who are undiagnosed, which means they are walking around with it and don’t even know. This particularly relates to type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 95 percent of all diabetes cases. The good news is, there’s a very simple screening that can be done on a yearly or biannual basis, which takes a matter of minutes. Exercise plays a tremendous role in diabetes management. People who drop their weight by 10 percent can sometimes decrease the risk by 50 percent.
9. Mental Health
African-Americans are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses compared to their White counterparts. For example, schizophrenia has been overdiagnosed in the African-American population. African-Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities when they turn to their emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even if health care professionals are necessary. African-Americans comprise about 40 percent of the homeless population. And we know that people who are homeless are at great risk of developing mental illness. Nearly half of all prisoners in the United States are African-American, and they’re also at higher risk of developing mental illness. Black Americans are largely undiagnosed with their mental illnesses for three major reasons. There is stigma attached to it, so African-American men do not seek diagnoses or treatment. Black men tend to be in the higher-risk groups for those who develop mental illness, such as the homeless and people in prison. And finally, African-American men tend to seek help in nontraditional places for issues related to mental health, and these nontraditional places tend not to be as effective at treating the disease.
10. Heart Disease
Despite what people hear about the incidence of prostate cancer, it is not the No. 1 killer of Black men. It’s heart disease. Some of the major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of regular physical activity and poor nutritional habits. And for African-American men, did I say obesity? Hello?
Ian Smith, M.D., is author of Shred: The Revolutionary Diet. Find him on Twitter @doctoriansmith.