How Race may predict your health
Updated: Jun 9, 2020
Race is on everyone’s minds lately with yet another black person’s death at the hands of a police officer.
Unconscious bias also affects healthcare. Women, in general, are often ignored or discounted when they claim they are in severe pain or experiencing a medical condition.
One of the most widely discussed examples of this involves one of the greatest tennis players ever to walk this earth: Serena Williams.
When Serena gave birth to her daughter in 2017, she recognized the symptoms of a condition she has had before: pulmonary embolisms. Pulmonary embolisms are a life-threatening condition where a blood clot has traveled from another area in the body and blocks an artery in the lungs.
Serena recognized her symptoms, informed the nurse what she needed (a CT scan & blood thinners) the nurse decided Serena was confused from the pain meds she was on after childbirth. Even the doctor preceded to test her but delayed the CT scan to do another test which showed no clots. Eventually, Serena was given the CT scan which proved she had been right all along, she had multiple blood clots in her lungs and needed a blood thinner.
Serena suffered additional health complications after the diagnosis of pulmonary embolisms which required bed rest for 6 weeks. Serena wasn’t an isolated case, in the US, black women are 243% more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications.
To read more about pregnancy & healthcare disparities between races, I highly recommend this article from Vox: What Serena Williams’s scary childbirth story says about medical treatment of black women.
What I’m going to discuss applies to both genders and all races.
Heart Disease, obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol are common chronic diseases in America for health issues. As previously discussed, 1 in 3 Americans have at least one chronic disease, and at least 1 in 2 of those Americans have multiple chronic diseases.
Why this is concerning is that one chronic condition often leads to the development of additional chronic conditions due to a negative loop of chronic inflammation in the body.
Let’s get to the facts and further explore these startling numbers:
1 in 3 Americans have at least one chronic condition
1 in 2 of these Americans have multiple chronic conditions
Also known as high blood pressure, is defined as >140/ >90 mmHg
42% of Black (non-Hispanic) adults, aged 20 or older are most likely to have hypertension
28% White, non-Hispanic
27% Asian, non-Hispanic
Defined as a body mass index of >30 or greater.
Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks are most likely to be obese.
47% Hispanic, adults aged 20 or older
48% Blacks, non-Hispanic
38% White, non-Hispanic
12% Asian, non-Hispanic
Additionally, one’s income is a predictor for obesity
36% of individuals earning less than $15,000 a year meet the CDC classification
The CDC classified 71% of the population as overweight or obese (including children)
Type 2 Diabetes:
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to the insulin created by the pancreas or the pancreas stops producing it. As a result, the amount of glucose (blood sugar) increases becoming unregulated and can cause other health conditions (kidney problems, heart disease, etc).
1 in 3 adults has prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, whether it’s diagnosed or not.
Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks are most likely to have diabetes in adults aged 20 or older
20% Black, non-Hispanic
13% White, non-Hispanic
14% Asian, non-Hispanic
Why do these numbers matter and how is this racial disparity in healthcare?
The first factor in these numbers is socioeconomic levels. With 20% of Hispanics and 24% non-Hispanic blacks living at or below the federal poverty level of $12,760 for 2020 for a single household in areas that have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables at low costs. They often live in areas that are “food deserts.” A food desert is created when access to healthy and nutritious foods simply isn’t there or accessible and occurs often with urban sprawl. Not just an urban area occurrence, the USDA also includes rural areas that are more than 10 miles from the closest supermarket or grocery store.
I could go on expanding this to include the fact that in many states if one earns minimum wage, they’re likely working more then 60-80 hours a week to cover basic living expenses. Which further limits access to healthy food because eating on the go becomes more important than being late to work or losing a job.
If you’ve read my previous articles on chronic conditions and inflammation, the best way in the long run to reduce these conditions and inflammation is through diet and lifestyle. If you don’t have access to the natural defenders against inflammation (healthy and nutritious food), you will not be able to fight off chronic illnesses without medical intervention and even then, you are only treating a symptom, not the entire picture. And that’s assuming one has medical coverage, which is a whole other conversation.
Twenty percent may not seem like its that large of a number. The US population is estimated to be more than 331 million people at the time of this article. Hispanics were the second-largest racial group in the US, representing nearly 60 million people. Non-Hispanic Blacks represent the third largest racial group representing around 46 million people. This means there are roughly 12 million Hispanics and 12 million non-Hispanic Blacks living at or below the federal poverty level. Add in the 28% of white, non-Hispanic, people living at or below the poverty level (~71 million people), and all other races at or below poverty, we now have well over 100 million Americans with the potential to live in areas without access to good healthcare or healthy food.
So, what can you do?
Donate to your local food banks
Become an advocate for lunch programs and CSA programs (community supported agriculture)
Become an advocate for healthcare programs in urban or impoverished areas
Donating to organizations like Planned Parenthood which provide routine health care to many urban areas where there is no other option for quality healthcare
Unconscious bias, unfortunately, extends to healthcare but diseases don’t care. Getting access to healthy food is the front line for preventing disease and improving health for all. Healthcare should be about the prevention of disease, healthy eating and activity is just one component.