The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Health Disparities Among African Americans

Posted in

Wednesday, Aug 05, 2020

Being black in America may be bad for your health, according to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. We’ve known for years that people of color generally face more health disparities (preventable differences) than whites primarily because of systemic inequalities in healthcare, education and social status. For African Americans, the disparities are even greater. 

Communities of color have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic mostly because they are more likely to have a greater number of underlying health conditions. Increased rates of high blood pressure and vitamin D deficiency are just two of the many conditions that put Blacks in America at greater risk for health disparities.

 The Risk of High Blood Pressure 

Hypertension (more commonly known as high blood pressure) is known as the silent killer for good reason - most people have no symptoms. Chronic stress, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition are just a few of the major risk factors for developing high blood pressure. Anyone at any age can have high blood pressure, but the risk increases with age. In fact, nearly 75% of adults over age 75 are hypertensive.

Monitoring blood pressure at every age is an important step to predict future risk. People with high blood pressure in childhood or adolescence are more likely to have heart disease by age 38. African Americans are especially vulnerable because they are more at-risk for obesity and diabetes and are less likely to have access to adequate healthcare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 54% of African Americans have high blood pressure. Across all ethnic groups, people are more likely to have high blood pressure if they are male, firstborn, low birth weight, higher body mass index, smoke cigarettes or have a family history of hypertension.  

 The Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency 

The body naturally produces vitamin D in response to the skin’s exposure to sunlight. People with darker skin pigmentation are at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency because the higher presence of melanin reduces the body’s production of vitamin D. An estimated 40% of American adults may be vitamin D deficient, but the rate is nearly double for African Americans.

African Americans tend to have higher rates of obesity and lower cardiorespiratory fitness levels, which when combined with vitamin D deficiency, put them at greater risk for a number of chronic and potentially life-shortening conditions such as hypertension, stroke, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, and all-cause mortality. Vitamin D deficiencies are also associated with decreased disease immunity, loss of cognition, and increased risk of depression, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

 Improve Overall Health 

Fitness is the key to improving overall health for everyone - not just African Americans. Over 50 years of research from The Cooper Institute and others have proven the many benefits of fitness as a means of prevention. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends a minimum of 150 minutes weekly of moderate physical activity plus at least two days each week of strength training. Other lifestyle choices such as attaining a healthy body weight, avoiding tobacco, eating a heart-healthy diet, and supplementing with vitamin D if needed will help all Americans live healthy Well. Into the Future.