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Following the #BlackLivesMatter movement (which called attention to the extrajudicial killings of African Americans), a new movement — #BlackHealthMatters — is picking up steam, bringing to light an important conversation that’s not talked about enough: the health disparities that black Americans face.
Sure, a variety of elements — family history, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices — all affect disease risk. But time and again, research and empirical evidence suggest that if you’re black, you’re more likely to have certain conditions such as heart disease and fare worse if diagnosed with specific cancers. There’s even evidence that the African American community faces different treatment from health care professionals in hospitals.
But what are the biggest diseases and health issues you may be at an increased risk for as an African American — and why do they exist in the first place?
Yahoo Health asked experts on the topic to explain the health disparities, the factors that could be at play, and what we can all do (regardless of race) to help close the gaps.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States — and the risk is even greater for African Americans, Lisa Angeline Cooper, MD, director of Johns Hopkins’ Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities, tells Yahoo Health. And not only that, cardiovascular disease is “the leading contributor to disparities in death rates between whites and African Americans.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly half of African American adults have some form of the disease. “One of the biggest contributors to this is uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure),” says Cooper. “African Americans have higher rates of hypertension — and although they have higher levels of awareness and treatment, they have lower rates of control even when treated.”