Yet we’re closer to the beginning of the fight than to the end. Some numbers:
- Diabetes is 60% more common in black Americans than in white Americans. Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to 5.6 times more likely to suffer kidney disease than other people with diabetes.
- African-Americans are three times more likely to die of asthma than white Americans.
- Deaths from lung scarring — sarcoidosis — are 16 times more common among blacks than among whites. The disease recently killed former NFL star Reggie White at age 43.
- Despite lower tobacco exposure, black men are 50% more likely than white men to get lung cancer.
- Strokes kill 4 times more 35- to 54-year-old black Americans than white Americans. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of whites.
- Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life — and with much higher blood pressure levels — than whites. Nearly 42% of black men and more than 45% of black women aged 20 and older have high blood pressure.
- Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than white men. African-American women have a 20% higher cancer death rate than white women.
Genes definitely play a role. So does the environment in which people live, socioeconomic status — and, yes, racism, says Clyde W. Yancy, MD, associate dean of clinical affairs and medical director for heart failure/transplantation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Yancy says that all humans have the same physiology, are vulnerable to the same illnesses, and respond to the same medicines. Naturally, diseases and responses to treatment do vary from person to person. But, he says, there are unique issues that affect black Americans.