By Mekenzie Kerr
Inequalities between African Americans and whites are prevalent throughout multiple facets of life, including health dynamics. For years a common health disparity trend has been a higher number of earlier deaths for blacks than whites, a trend that is shifting, according to a recent federal study.
Imagine reviewing 15 years worth of death certificates, sounds thrilling, right? While the task at hand may not sound too inspiring, it became much more intriguing when researchers found that the rates of premature death (between ages 25-64) declined among blacks (and Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders). This find piques interest when juxtaposed with the fact that, at the same time, premature death rates rose for whites.
It’s important to note that while the trend is shifting (i.e. premature death rates for blacks declining while it increases for whites), the overall premature death rates are still (unfortunately) higher among blacks.
Alright, weird. So what’s going on here? I’m sure we’re all asking the question, because the research findings are still begging for answers.
Among blacks there were fewer deaths resulting from cancer, HIV and heart disease. Researchers credit two different reasons as to why:
1. The success of public health programs (yay!) to reduce tobacco use.
2. Medical advances that improve diagnosis and treatment.
A reason for “significant jumps” in accidental deaths among whites is to be attributed to drug overdoses. Suicides and liver disease are also on the list as to why premature deaths among whites has been on the rise.
There are a few things that these new findings can and should promote. The fact that premature death rates for blacks (and other minorities) is going down should serve as an encouragement to continue pushing forward with public health programs and minority health disparity work to close the existing gap. It should also serve as a wake up call that work still needs to be done.
And although advancements and certain gaps have become less severe, there are still major, complex issues that must be observed and worked on to continue forward.
Many of the health and health care issues that lead to a shorter life span for black Americans are ones that are thrust upon them before birth (Cook, 2015). According to the article, the “average black baby enters the world under different circumstances than the average white baby, and the gap only grows between birth and death.”
Can we take a moment to acknowledge how scary and unfair it is that even before a baby takes its first breath it is disadvantaged in such a way that will cut their lifespan short? Because it is. It is very frightening.
In 2012, roughly 13 percent of babies born to black mothers had low birth weights compared with the 7 percent of babies born to white mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infant mortality rates for white America is 5.2 infants out of 1,000 births (dying before age 1) and is 11.5 deaths per 1,000 for black America. This figure is double that of white America and puts the population subsection “nearly on par with Mexico.”
The progress made thus far is admirable as it shows a result of how there is a path that has been paved to set the standard of dedication to eliminating health disparities. But the existing issues between blacks and whites in America is disheartening and leaves me with a question: is America okay with two people of the same age having entirely different lifespan expectancies based on opportunities (or a lack thereof) completely out of their control, present prior to their birth?