Dear, smart, strong, competent Black woman (or friend/father/lover of a smart, strong Black woman) reading this:
Have you/your loved one visited your primary care physician for a head-to-toe physical within the last 12 months?
Did you ask probing questions about your health while you were there?
Do you know your blood type, normal blood pressure range, A1C, cholesterol level and HIV/AIDS status?
In my practice, I see too many Black women who answer ‘no’ to one or all of these questions. Chances are you are one of the many Black women in this country neglecting her health in a major way and it is costing all of us dearly.
Recent reports have suggested that HIV rates among African-American women are rising at a frightening pace and that infant mortality rates are higher among Black women than other minority groups. It’s also true that African Americans have the largest health risks when compared to other minorities including more disease, disability and early death. Headlines like these are painting a grim picture of our health, and it’s up to us to dial back the hysteria.
Minority Health Month is a well-timed reminder of how little we Black women do to protect our health. And there is good news is that it takes little effort to make major changes for a healthier future.
Before we get into what can be done, take a look at the top three causes of death among Black women. Be sure to keep an eye out for a recurring theme:
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women 20 years of age and older and Black women are often at higher risk than Caucasian women. African Americans also develop high blood pressure more often, and at an earlier age, than other ethnic groups with more than 45 percent of Black women living with the condition according to recent research. Research has shown that 85 percent of medical visits by African-American women are due to high blood pressure.
A primary cause of heart disease among Black women is lack of prevention. Proper diet, exercise and knowledge of family history would prevent many women from entering heart disease territory and would save many lives.
According to the CDC, approximately 168,000 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed in 2011. In African American women, the most common cancers were breast (34%) and lung (13%).
African Americans continue to be less likely than whites to survive five years at each stage of diagnosis for most cancer sites. Much of the difference in survival is believed to be due to barriers that prevent timely and high-quality medical care including lack of education and economic disparities, which results in later stage diagnosis.
African Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning. With disparity growing deeper, African Americans now account for more new HIV infections, AIDS diagnoses, people estimated to be living with HIV disease, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial/ethnic group in the U.S. Along with having the highest count in newly diagnosed patients with HIV infection, African-American women now account for the most new AIDS diagnoses among all ethnic groups. Prevention reigns king in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Prevention and education is key. African American women are less likely to receive quality health care and are more likely to postpone health care until illness is acute. For example, diseases such as breast and cervical cancers aren’t detected early when they are most treatable and are instead treated in the late stages of illness when treatment and recovery is more strenuous. This is often due to the lack of trust in the medical system, problems accessing care, cultural differences and a lack of knowledge about the importance of tests to screen for major health problems. For some diseases, genetics also may contribute to risk and not having a detailed family medical history is also a detriment to one’s health.
While there are myriad reasons why Black women are dying of heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS at faster rates than other groups, a glaring reality is that prevention would do wonders to drop the number of tragedies.
Every Black woman has the power to improve her health and the health of her loved ones by becoming educated and taking action. Ask questions, hire a health care advocate and listen to your body. Do it for your family, your finances and most importantly, for yourself.
Shenekia Loud, PA/SA, FSA [post-grad] is the founder and president of The Kenkou Group, a full-service health care concierge agency based in New York City. She is a certified HIV/AIDS counselor and the proud mother of two children, one of whom has Type 1 diabetes. She keeps current on all research related to diabetes and its cure and plans to seek a certificate as a Diabetic Educator. Follow her on Twitter at @thekenkougroup.