Why Black Health Matters: An Introduction to BLKHLTH

Black health matters because black lives matter. As black people, it is important that we understand the factors that can help or hurt our health. Equipped with this knowledge, we can begin improving the health of our communities and ensuring the progress of our people.

Before exploring the state of health in the black community and giving you more information on our organization BLKHLTH, we want to provide you with a basic toolkit of common health-related terms. We hope that this information (whether new to you or a refresher) will help you better understand, navigate, and lead conversations around black health.

Public Health is the science of protecting, promoting, and improving the health of entire communities of people. Unlike doctors and nurses who treat individuals when they get sick or injured, public health professionals work behind the scenes to prevent communities from getting sick in the first place.

A Health Outcome is the result of various factors in an individual’s life that impact an area of their health. An example of a health outcome is low birth weight.

If a group of people are more likely to experience a health outcome than another group, then a Health Disparity is present. For instance, African Americans being more likely to acquire diabetes than white people is an example of a health disparity.

Health Equity occurs when all groups of people have access to education, health services, a safe environment, and other things that will allow them to reach their full health potential regardless of where they stand in society.

Social determinants of health are the factors in one’s life that impact health and wellbeing. These factors, or conditions, include things like employment, access to healthy food and racism.

Social justice requires not only fairness in how individuals in society are treated and how decisions are made, but an intentional focus on society’s most vulnerable groups. Social justice is directly related to public health because public health calls for individuals to direct their attention to the needs of the most disadvantaged in our community to bolster health and wellness for all.

Now that we have reviewed commonly used health and justice-related concepts, let’s look more specifically into health in the black community and what BLKHLTH is doing to address these issues.

African American Health

African Americans get sick more often and die sooner than whites in this country. If death rates were equal among whites and blacks, we would see 100,000 less African Americans die each year. Over the course of ten years that would equate to 1 million fewer black people dying.

In this country, we are used to thinking of poor health as the result of an individual’s personal choices. For example, when an individual gets sick and must go to the hospital, the question is usually “what did you do that made you sick?”. However, individual behaviors can only influence one's health up to a certain point. The social and economic factors that shape black people’s environments and decisions have a greater impact on individual health. These factors contribute to more African Americans suffering from asthma and diabetes or dying from cancer and heart disease.

Social determinants of health have a significant influence on racial disparities in health outcomes. For example, black people are more likely to be in poverty, and differences in income or education can contribute to limited access to information that may protect health. Black people are also more likely to live in neighborhoods with poorer infrastructure, and differences in neighborhood residential conditions influence access to clean water or healthy foods. These factors are important contributors to racial differences in health.

Racism is a public health issue.

Racism operates throughout many of our institutions, including education, justice, housing, and – you guessed it – our healthcare system.

Dr. Camara Jones, President of the American Public Health Association, defines racism as “a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how we look.” In the United States and most places around the world, we know this plays out as white people having more opportunities and being treated as more valuable than black and brown people.

So how exactly is the health of black people negatively affected by racism? These are just a few examples:

  1. Racism is stressful.  
  2. Racial segregation puts many black people in unhealthy environments.
  3. Black people have less access to health care services.
  4. The quality of care received within the healthcare system is often worse for black people.

Statistics

So, now we know African Americans are more likely to suffer and die from serious illnesses and not receive the care we need. Below is a list of some of the most common health disparities that affect African American adults and children when compared to white people:

African American adults are:

40% more likely to die from stroke

30% more likely to die of heart disease

2.5 times more likely to die during pregnancy

2 times more likely to die from prostate cancer

40% more likely to die from breast cancer

2.1 times more likely to die from asthma

20% less likely to receive treatment for depression

9 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV and 8 times more likely to die from HIV

60% more likely to be diabetic; and 2 times as likely to undergo leg, foot, or toe amputation

African American children are:

2 times as likely to die as an infant; and 2 times as likely to die of SIDS

2 times as likely to have asthma; and 3 times as likely to die from asthma

73% more likely to be obese

30% more likely to attempt suicide as a high-schooler

Working towards health equity

BLKHLTH is an organization founded by a team of four public health professionals and community advocates who are committed to addressing the complex problems outlined above. Our solution is to curate a space where health information is centralized and accessible. We hope that by providing community-focused content, events, and professional services, we can inspire the black community in improving our health and wellness. We are excited to continuously present you with tips, resources and success stories related to black health that will educate, engage and empower us all on our journey to health equity.