African Americans are living longer. This is significant, considering just under 20 years ago a gripping health disparity gap resulted in average death rates that were 25 percent higher than they are today. While trending in the right direction, the life expectancy for African Americans is still four years shorter than for Caucasian people – a paradigm we desperately need to change.
For many African Americans, the risk factors that go on to cause major health problems are undetected for too long, and that leads to trouble. Because successful treatment often starts with early discovery, missing warning signs dramatically decreases the chances of a healthy outcome. For African Americans, this is happening more than it should.
We all can probably do more to take better care of ourselves.
If you’re African American, start with these four things to live a longer, healthier life, and in the process, chip away at the health disparity gap by adding years to your life.
Shed extra pounds. Three out of four African Americans are overweight or obese, and African American children are following in their parents’ footsteps. The problem isn’t so much the number on the scale as it is the domino effect on the rest of your body. More than 80 percent of people with diabetes are overweight, for example, and those extra pounds can also cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke – all of which can be deadly.
Take diabetes seriously. Diabetes can be genetic, but the risk can still be very high for people without a family history. Roughly 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, which can be triggered by obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and lack of exercise, among other things. If you fit the profile, make sure to get your blood sugar checked. One in four people with diabetes has no idea they have it, and that lack of awareness (and absence of treatment) is literally sabotaging years of good health.
Get your blood pressure checked. 103 million Americans – or nearly half the population – have high blood pressure, and when we isolate by race, this number jumps to nearly 60 percent for African Americans. High blood pressure is the silent killer because it lacks symptoms, but a quick test can tell you what your body cannot. Missing your early detection window can send you down a path to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. On the flipside, lifestyle tweaks and medication can save your life.
Live better. Lifestyle is often the most important indicator of good health, but many people overlook glaring warning signs when trouble is ahead. Healthy eating, physical activity, rest and regular visits with your provider can offset or intercept pitfalls, and give you the information and tools to live longer and healthier. Commit to yearly checkups and health regimens – medicines, therapies, treatments – that will help you avoid serious complications from dangerous risk factors. Sometimes just living a little better each day can be life-saving in the long run.
While you can’t change your genes, you can change how you approach your health, starting with little lifestyle tweaks and a lifelong commitment to managing your personal risks. Because many of the biggest health threats – diabetes, heart disease, stroke – start with nagging risk factors that many people overlook, more attention to the causes of these conditions will naturally bring about better outcomes. This month is National Minority Health Month, and providers everywhere are talking about how to close the health disparity gap in patient populations. This list is a great place to start.