“State of African American Health”
By: Michael Lafears, Jr.
The subject of African American health has been a recognized but often under-addressed issue though out American culture. African Americans are commonly more susceptible to certain illnesses and diseases stemming primarily from genetics, however there are some health issues that can either be reduced or completely eliminated from the statistic list of common African American health conditions. So what are the common health concerns that are often affiliated to the African American community and what are some preventive measures that exist to reduce and/or eliminate these common health issues? This article will seek to educate the public on the health conditions affecting African Americans the most and some recommended solutions to help improve the overall health of this community.
African Americans are often associated with good down home southern cooking that is known to most as “soul food”. Soul food has long been embedded in the African American culture and to an extent holds the history of our identity within the flavors, aromas, and authentic recipes passed from generation to generation since the slavery period. During slavery, Blacks was often left with the left over parts of animals that whites considered scraps. Those undesired remains were taken by slaves and turned into some of the tastiest meals that we have all grown to love. Nutrition was not necessarily a top priority during those times for Blacks, because as slaves it was about survival. They ate what they could get their hands on and turned the little scraps into the traditional meals we are accustom to today. Many foods that are a part of the African American menu are nutritious such as collard greens, beans, rice, and other yellow vegetables; however the preparation and cooking of meals often cancels out some of the nutritional benefits in “soul food”. According to June Ewing’s article in the Ohio State University’s Family and Consumer Science website “parts of the diet, however, are low in fiber, calcium, potassium, and high in fat. With high incidence of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity, some African-Americans have paid a high price for this lifestyle” (Ewing, Ohio State University).
Food is a big part of the African American culture. It brings families together during religious ceremonies, holidays, and other traditional gatherings. These high calorie and high fat foods contribute to most of the health issues mentioned above in the African American communities. In most cases, it is very challenging for the African American community to gravitate towards healthier diets due to economical disadvantages that prevent them from acquiring better quality foods. Also, the history and culture that goes along with the high fat diets is so embedded in their identities and cultural definition of self; that some find it difficult to change what they have always known. In some cases, African Americans may feel like they are betraying their history by changing what their eating habits have always been since their ancestors. Soul food is not just a hip name for African American cuisine, but to some elder members of this culture it is truly the soul of our story and people that is baked, fried, and seasoned in our trademark food dishes.
Another issue that contributes to the state of the African American health is limited access to quality healthcare. Many African Americans cannot afford quality healthcare when they have to make constant life decisions between food and shelter. In most scenarios, families will sacrifice quality healthcare for basic needs such as food and shelter. Most African Americans have to settle for over the counter drugs and home remedies to care for the health needs of their families. In comparison to whites and some other minorities, there are some significant disparities in the availability and access to quality medical care. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality “Disparities in health care are often ascribed to differences in income and access to insurance…[studies have found] that African American patients received a lower quality of care than white patients” (http://www.ahrq.gov/research/disparit.htm). The difference in income status, plays a major role in the ability to access quality care because in comparison to whites; few blacks have medical insurance to help cover the expense of medical cost. Those that do have medical insurance obtain them from their jobs. When companies lay-off employees due to a down economy; African Americans and other minorities are affected the most by the loss of income and company benefits.
So, what are some of the most common health issues affecting African Americans today? According to the Network of Healthy California website; “The African American community is disproportionately affected by obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer” (http://healthedcouncil.org/network/AfricanAmerican/aa_healthstats.pdf). These are some well- known health issues associated with the African American population. These issues stem from either unhealthy diets or family genetics. Heart disease and cancer are the top 2 killers among African Americans with diabetes not far behind in the rankings. The lack of physical activity also attribute to these preventable conditions. According to the Network of Healthy California “ Nearly half (48%) of African Americans reported that they did not participate in the recommended levels of physical activity (30 minutes of moderate physical activity, 5 days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity 3 days a week), which was very similar to the 49 percent for all adults statewide” (http://healthedcouncil.org/network/AfricanAmerican/aa_healthstats.pdf). The combination of unhealthy eating, genetics, and lack of exercise are all factors in the state of African American health, but 2 of the 3 factors can be changed.
America as a country is becoming obese and unhealthy with the convenience of fast food and affordability of low quality foods which makes it easy to lose self. The popularity of technology such as smartphones, social sites, video game systems, computers, and other devices that may take away the social aspect of humans that require physical activity for interactions such as something as walking is slowly going away. So what can African Americans do to change their medical history? First, the way foods are cooked could change. African Americans do not have to give up their favorite foods in order to eat healthy. The way the traditional foods are prepared and cooked can be modified; for instance instead of frying everyday more baked alternatives to our favorite foods can be prepared. Instead of cooking with high cholesterol oils; a healthier oil like olive oil could be substituted instead. Simple adjustments in food choices and preparation can make a huge difference. Instead of eating fast food often, cooking quick and healthy meals at home can reduce obesity, diabetes, and other types of heart disease. Incorporating a regular exercise regimen within a person’s daily task will not only benefit them health wise, but also it becomes a little easier when it is a part of a person’s regular daily routine. It is also a great way to combine fitness and family time by inviting family members to join you on walks, biking, fitness class, running, or any activity that you all enjoy. Education is the key element in African American improving their health status. They may not have the finances to always see the best doctors or check into the best medical facility, however they can still live a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing too much of their personal style. It is often the little changes that make the big difference.
Stay Healthy; My Friends!
Agency for Research and Quality. 2000. Addressing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health
Care. Retrieved on June 27, 2012 from, http://www.ahrq.gov/research/disparit.htm
Ewing, June. 2010. Cultural Diversity: Eating in American-African American. The Ohio
Network for a Healthy California. 2009. African American Health Statistics. Retrieved on June
27, 2012 from, http://healthedcouncil.org/network/AfricanAmerican/aa_healthstats.pdf