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Three Simple Lifesaving Strategies for Good Health

Updated May 4, 2015

A recent survey conducted by AARP found that the top concern on the minds of African Americans over 50 is staying healthy. With that in mind, I want to spotlight  health disparities in the black community and how we can stay healthier and live longer.

Louis Sullivan. M.D.

According to the CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2013here are some of the disparities:

  • African American adults develop diabetes at twice the rate of white adults.
  • African Americans had “the largest incidence and death rates” from colorectal cancer compared with all other racial and ethnic populations.
  • African Americans die more often from heart disease and strokes.
  • African American adults have “the largest prevalence of hypertension…diabetes, obesity, or a disability.”
  • African American and Hispanic adults tend to experience high blood pressure at higher rates than white adults.


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The good news is that the health disparities gap is closing. Louis Sullivan, M.D., founding president of the Morehouse School of Medicine and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says that at the start of the 20th century, the disparity in life expectancy between blacks and whites was 15 to 17 years; now the gap is five to eight years.

But that’s still a significant gap. Besides healthy eating and exercise, Sullivan offers three lifesaving strategies to help close the gap:

First, if you’re having symptoms that you know are strange, see a doctor — now. African Americans tend to hope that a symptom or condition will eventually disappear instead of spending money to see a doctor. But it’s best to not “wait until a minor condition becomes a major one,” Sullivan says. If necessary, get Medicaid or affordable health insurance. Plus, by seeing a doctor immediately, you might prevent a major, even more costly or deadly health situation later.

Second, educate yourself on health issues so you will know the questions to ask your doctors. Sullivan says doctors sometimes have unconscious and conscious biases. He points out that a doctor may assume that an African American patient can’t afford certain treatments; therefore in the case of diabetes, for example, amputation may be recommended when another, more costly treatment might be available.

Finally, encourage family members and loved ones to see a doctor regularly. For example, sometimes pregnant African American and Latina women see an obstetrician for the first time once they’re in labor, when they should have started regular checkups in the first trimester. Sullivan stresses that this contributes to the disparate infant mortality and premature birth rates.

Get discounts on prescriptions, health exams, eye care and more — AARP Member Advantages. »

The CDC’s theme for Minority Health Month 2015 is “Prevention Is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity!” We agree. If you’re having symptoms, don’t wait. See a doctor.

AARP helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for and equips Americans 50 and older to live their best lives. Discover all the ways AARP can help you, your family and your community at AARP Black Community, and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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