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Honoring Black History Month Through a Health Equity Lens

Published by Nicole Porter on

As we honor and celebrate Black History Month this February, we wanted to close out the month with a focus on a topic of significant importance here at VEAP – health equity in the African American community. Read below as we look at the unique challenges of health disparities among Black Americans, some insights on how we can all work towards a more just healthcare system, and the incredible contributions of African American medical pioneers.

Health Disparities Among African Americans
The leading causes of death among African Americans include heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Here are some statistics you should know and preventative healthcare tips:

Cardiovascular disease represents 1 in 3 deaths in the United States. While impacting people of all demographics, African Americans, and older individuals face a higher risk. Alarmingly, nearly half of African American adults have some type of cardiovascular disease and statistics show that 2 out of every 5 African American adults suffer from high blood pressure, underscoring the urgency to address this health disparity, particularly among those living below the federal poverty level.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death for black people in the United States, with higher incidence and mortality rates among black men compared to men of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. While white women have the highest rates of cancer incidence, black women face the highest mortality rates. Notably, breast cancer deaths are declining faster among white women, contributing to a 40% higher mortality rate for black women. This disparity is influenced by factors such as the aggressive nature of cancers and limited social and economic resources. To bridge this gap, there’s a critical need for more timely follow-up and improved access to high-quality treatment for black women. Additionally, prostate cancer is more prevalent in black men, starting at younger ages and exhibiting faster growth, though the exact reasons are not yet understood by  medical experts.

Obesity presents a significant concern within the African American community, with links to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to experience obesity compared to non-Hispanic Whites, with a prevalence rate of 48% compared to 35% among non-Hispanic Whites. This is likely tied to dietary disparities (African Americans consume fewer vegetables than other racial/ethnic groups, although their fruit consumption is comparable to that of non-Hispanic Whites) and insufficient aerobic exercise (more than half of African American adults do not meet the recommended aerobic guidelines) This emphasizes the need for targeted interventions to address these health disparities.

Lifestyle changes can help promote heart health, prevent diseases, and reduce health disparities. These include:

  •  A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, avoiding saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. 
  • Incorporating regular exercise into your routine, aiming for 150 minutes per week, which can be split into smaller intervals. 
  • Quitting smoking. Resources like 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA for Spanish speakers, offer coaching, plans, and educational materials. 
  • Limiting alcohol intake by adhering to moderation guidelines. 
  • Being aware of your family’s medical history as it can have an impact on your heart disease and stroke risk
  • Proactively manage any existing medical conditions and follow the ABCS of heart health: Appropriate aspirin therapy (where necessary), Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management, and Smoking cessation.

A Conversation With Dr. TaRessa Wills On Advancing Health Equity

This Black History Month, we’re spotlighting Dr. TaRessa Wills, a black physician championing health equity. Dr. Wills recently spoke with CDC’s Project Firstline to talk about what Black History Month means to her and how health equity is essential for creating a safer healthcare system for everyone. 

This is a wonderful discussion with a focus on the importance of a diverse healthcare workforce and its positive impact on patient outcomes. Dr Wills shares her patient-centered approach, emphasizing understanding individual experiences and addressing biases. Building trust and tailoring care plans are key to her work, along with ensuring cultural sensitivity. You can check out the full conversation here!

Historic African American Medical Pioneers

Finally, we wanted to wrap up by recognizing the contributions of African American pioneers in medicine. These trailblazers paved the way for advancements that continue to shape healthcare today. We hope you’ll take a moment to learn a bit more about these individuals who have triumphed over adversity, challenged systemic barriers, and significantly influenced the landscape of medicine. Click here to learn more about their inspiring stories!

Thanks for joining us in celebrating Black History Month! At VEAP, our work of improving vaccine equity in our communities is just a small piece of the much bigger picture of creating a more equitable healthcare system for all. We encourage you to continue the conversation and visit the resources shared below!



Celebrate African American History Month!

Celebrating Black History and Advancing Health Equity for Safer Patient Care

African American Medical Pioneers