African Americans & Our Health: Spotlighting the 30th Anniversary of National Minority Health Month

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April is National Minority Health Month.  This observance aims to raise awareness about the health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities.  This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of this health awareness focus, and I thought it would be fitting to discuss the health status of African Americans, and share my own plight in taking charge in maintaining good health and a healthy lifestyle.

The Health Status of Black America:  Knowing the Stats

As someone who is well-aware of the healthcare access barriers, discriminatory practices, and stigma that can negatively impact African Americans and our plight to be proactive about our health, I wanted to share the numbers for our population that exists.  During the Black Out campaign that occurred in March, I stumbled upon the health statistics of Black America; some I was familiar with, while others alarmed me.  I wanted to feature this information with updated figures regarding the health state of Black America:

Black American Population in America (all ages)

  • In 2013, it was estimated that 45 million, or 15.2% of the total U.S. population, were African Americans, which included persons who identified as being more than one race.
  • For persons who only identified as African American, they composed 13.2%, or 41.6 million, of the U.S. population.

Health Status

  • Percentage of persons all ages in fair or poor health: 14.6%

Healthcare Coverage

  • Percentage of those under 65 years without health insurance coverage:  17.8%

10 Leading Causes of Death

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Unintentional Injuries
  • Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, & Nephrosis (Kidney Disease)
  • Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease
  • Homicide
  • Septicemia (Blood poisoning)
  • Alzheimer’s Disease


  • African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV.
  • The rate of new HIV infection in African Americans is 8 times that of Whites based on population size.
  • In 2013, 21,836 African Americans were diagnosed with HIV, composing the largest percentage (46%) of the estimated 47,352 diagnoses of HIV infection in the United States, when viewed by race/ethnicity.
  • The rate of HIV diagnoses among African Americans (55.9/100,000 people) was similarly disproportionate.
  • In 2013, an estimated 13,172 African Americans were diagnosed with AIDS in the United States.
  • By the end of 2012, an estimated 270,726 African Americans diagnosed with AIDS had died in the United States.
  • From 2008 to 2012, the death rate per 1,000 African Americans living with HIV declined 28% – more than the overall decline of 22% seen among all people living with HIV.

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African Americans.
  • African Americans are 13% of the population; yet nearly twice that many die from heart disease each year.
  • Among non-Hispanic Blacks age 20 and older, 48.9% of African American women, and 44.4% of African American men, suffer from cardiovascular disease.
  • CVD caused the deaths of 48,070 African American women and 46,334 African American men in 2009.
  • African American men are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic White males.

Diabetes & Hypertension

  • 4.9 million African-American adults, or 18.7% of all African Americans over the age of 20, have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, in comparison to 7.1% of non-Hispanic White Americans.
  • The risk of diabetes is 77% higher among African Americans than among non-Hispanic White Americans.
  • 44.5% of African American women, and 39.9% of African American men, suffer from hypertension.


Adult Obesity

  • African Americans have the highest rates of obesity.
  • 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity when compared with Whites.
  • 56.7% of African American women, and 37.9% of African American men, are obese.

Childhood Obesity

  • 35.9% of African-American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, compared with 31.7% of all children within this age range.
  • 11.4% of African American children between the ages 2 to 5 already are obese.
  • The prevalence of obesity for African American adolescents aged 12 to 19 rose from 13.4% to 24.4% over two decades, in comparison to all adolescents within this timeframe and age group, which increased from 10.5% to 18.1%.
  • 20.5% of African American girls were obese in 2011-2012, when compared with 15.6% of White girls.
  • 19.9% of African American boys were obese in 2011-2012, when compared with 12.6% of White boys.
  • Current generation is projected to be the first not to live longer than its parents.

The Takeaways from the Startling Numbers

The above information shows the severely critical state Black America’s health is in, and our very lives depend on us being realistic about what is happening to our bodies, as well as be proactive in ameliorating, and one day extinguishing, the devastating effects these health issues have on our community.

Actions taken will have to be multi-level (individual/family; community; and local, state, and federal entities) and multi-focus (tackling issues within age groups, disabilities, gender, etc.) stakeholding; no singular group of persons or organizations can fix what is plaguing the health status of our community.  Our current health status did not transpire overnight.  The inaccessibility of proper nutritional options began during enslavement; lack of equal and timely healthcare services continued well into the 20th century, and even during this century; unethical and deadly experimental medical practices inflicted on the Black body for research purposes are greatly detailed in our history; realistic fear and hesitation in seeking healthcare services outside of one’s community due to discrimination and mistreatment affects us gravely; and many other factors have played tremendous roles in African Americans receiving the short end of the healthcare stick in this country.

However, the rates in which we are contracting and dying from preventable diseases can no longer be tolerated by us; just as the mainstream can no longer continue to be willfully ignorant regarding the disparities that influence our health and death rates.  What angers me is that if these numbers were flipped – that is, of the majority/White America – there would be incredible efforts, and copious funding, made available from the top (state and federal governments and entities) to the bottom (local, individual/family) to eradicate and save the lives of those affected.  It goes without saying that in America, the color of your skin dictates whether the health conditions you are genetically predisposed to and/or are affected by generates enough attention to warrant public concern and action.  The racialization of medical and health care are still present, and sadly, our lives are paying the heavy price.  Black lives matter when it comes to the business of healthcare, and that has to be in the consciousness of everyone in this country if we are going to tackle and improve the health status of Black America.

What I Have Done to Maintain My Current Health Status

1238256_10100158010996946_424589469_nAs a disabled person, it is crucial that I stay on top of my health, and to do the best I can to remain healthy and retain the current quality of life I enjoy.  Being almost 30, I know that these are the key years for me to be proactive about my health.  Since 2012, I began to prepare home-cooked meals for myself and eating out in moderation; participated in virtual races to keep myself physically activity (I pedal, and have participated in several 5K and 10K races); learned how to manage my stress level better by identifying triggers and incorporating self-care activities into my routine; and kept up with my medical appointments better and addressed concerns I have if something arises to my doctors.  I am not perfect, but I am trying – trying to be healthy and remain strong physically, emotionally, and mentally are what all of us can attempt to do.  Some action is better than inaction, and I would rather be proactive in making small strides to manage my health than none at all.

Final Thoughts

The idea behind this post was to inform, and hopefully cause my readers to brainstorm what course of action they can undertake to tackle the health status of Black America.  Behind the numbers given are people, and these people could be, or may very well be, those we love and want to see fulfill the days they are meant to live.  Though National Minority Health Month is recognized in April, we can all take steps in our day-to-day life to support and raise awareness about our health, and the health of those affected.  This is not just a Black issue that only Black Americans need to be concerned with – this is a HUMAN issue that needs to be on everyone’s radar.

It is only when we are united around this issue that lasting change will occur.  What are you prepared to do to create dialogue and ideas surrounding this matter?  Ramp your voices in the comment section below, or email me with your thoughts at Vilissa@rampyourvoice.com.

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of Urban Cusp & Comprehensive Women’s Care.)

African American health statistics sources:
CDC’s Black or African American Fact Sheet
CDC’s Health of Black Americans Fact Stats
CDC’s HIV Among African Americans
State of Obesity’s Special Report
CAHPERD’s Obesity Rates
American Diabetes Association’s Clinical Diabetes
American Heart Association’s Statistical Fact Sheet
NiaSimone on Tumblr, “Black Out for Knowledge”

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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