The Problem: Racial Disparities in Healthcare
As the pandemic has drastically affected the lives of many and changed the way the healthcare system functions, it has also highlighted the many racial disparities in healthcare that affect communities of color. One community specifically is the African American community. With COVID-19 disproportionately impacting the black community, underlying issues in the healthcare system have revealed that African Americans are struggling when it comes to health and wellness. Even though the pandemic brought these disparities to the attention of many, the black community has been disadvantaged for years. Currently, African American women are three times more likely to die a maternal death than white women. Black infants make up 15% of births in the United States, but they count for 29% of all infant mortalities. The list goes on and on of all the higher rates and risks for illnesses and deaths that the black community is impacted by. Without a solution, the rates will only increase and the health of African Americans will only decline more. This is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed now.
The History: Legacy of Slavery
While there are many factors that affect the health of the African American community, lingering effects of slavery are most responsible. Poor social determinants of health as a racial discrimination and economic inequality have put African Americans at a disadvantage when it comes to their health. Lack of access to quality care, low levels of education, and other factors have all resulted from systematic racism and continue to plague the black community today.
Some of the most common health issues that disproportionately affect the black community are cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Linked to the increased risk of getting cardiovascular disease and hypertension is small birth size. During slavery, African American women were delivering small babies in comparison to the average birth size due to poor nutrition, hard physical labor, and the “energetic cost of fighting off infectious diseases” (MedPage Today). Even after slavery had ended, and still during the present, black women have continued to deliver babies at low birth weights. “Over the past 50 years, the mean birth weight of whites in the United States has increased about 26 g per decade for female infants whereas the mean was lower for U.S.-born African-American women and increased less than 7 g per decade.” Since slavery, many others factors that affect birth size have been taken into account. Racial discrimination and economic inequality and their consequential effects have directly impacted black women’s health, and ultimately, the health of their infant. Small birth size as a result of slavery and poor social determinants of health are attributed to many common health problems that disproportionately affect African Americans. These problems include “higher blood pressure, insulin resistance and diabetes, dyslipidemia, abdominal obesity, and higher risk of cardiovascular disease and related mortality” (MedPage Today).
In addition to low birth weights, growing African American infants are put at more disadvantages as a result of slavery. During slavery, African American women were forced to breastfeed the children of their slave masters while they should have been feeding their own children, providing them with the nutrients they needed as growing infants. Since slavery, breastfeeding has continued to be associated with a lack of choice and many Black women do not receive the same social and societal support to breastfeeding that white women do. Currently, only “59 percent of black women breastfeed, compared to 79 percent of whites” (NC Health News). Ultimately, African American infants that are not breastfed are set at a disadvantage in comparison to babies of other races that are breastfed as they do not benefit from the nutrients that breast milk provides. Some of these benefits include antibodies to fight off viruses, bacteria, and infection, as well as a decreased risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes.
The Solution: Small Steps
How do these issues connect to me?
Being a member of the African American community, I take many of these issues to heart. I have always been passionate about medicine and learning how the healthcare system fails to care for my community has made me more interested in finding solutions to eliminate racial disparities in healthcare. While this project has given me the opportunity to do more research on why these issues are happening, I have also been able to see the major differences with health and wellness in predominately black neighborhoods in comparison to other communities. My personal solution is to assist in making changes in the black communities that would ultimately impact health and wellness. I have developed a prototype for an app that would increase access to healthcare with a group of my peers and looked into other opportunities to make change. Overall, these issues are very close to my heart and will continue to create solutions and help in the ways I can.
While bigger social changes are necessary to improve the overall health and wellness of African Americans, there are smaller actions that can be taken to make a significant difference. Here are some general solutions to improve the health among the community:
- Education: starting with children, education about health and wellness is essential in school curriculum as it will act as prevention for the younger generation. Children should participate in mandatory classes that focus on the proper diet, exercise, mental health care, etc. This would ensure that children in the African American community are knowledgeable about how to live and treat their minds and bodies to live a full, healthy life.
- Access to Care: being that many African Americans go uncared for due to lack of access to quality healthcare and sufficient medical professionals, it is vital to create a better healthcare system. African Americans should have access to hospitals and clinics regardless of their location or their ability to afford it. The care needed should be provided with the same level of quality that others receive.
- Better Neighborhoods: many black communities live in poorer areas with lack of access to care and resources needed to lead a healthy life. Food deserts limit African American residents from getting healthier food options which increases their risk of getting cardiovascular disease or diabetes. There are also very few places in black communities that allow residents to exercise properly. If black neighborhoods were revamped with better schools, job opportunities, sufficient and local grocery stores, and designated areas conducive for exercise, the health and wellness of the black communities in the U.S. would improve greatly.
In addition to these changes/solutions necessary in the black community, there are ways you can help!
- Volunteer in predominantly black neighborhoods. There are many opportunities to help at food pantries or schools in black neighborhoods to bring more resources to the people who live there. Volunteering in these areas can help make a difference in the lives of the residents and also the lives of the volunteers. There are many other ways to volunteer in communities as well like cleaning up neighborhoods and parks, helping at charities and homeless shelters, etc.
- Raise awareness of the problem. The best way to get more people involved is by sharing information about racial disparities that affect the African American community. Sharing information with your friends, family, school, or community/neighborhood can increase awareness of the issue and lead to change that could serve as a solution.
- The possibilities are endless. There are a myriad of ways to ensure better health and wellness in the black community. Even supporting black-owned businesses in the African American community can assist in bettering the economy and supporting growing communities. There is no action too big or small, so please help in the different ways you can!
Thank you so much for looking through my project! I hope you enjoyed and learned something new, and please leave me some feedback.