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Hypertension/High Blood Pressure Health Center

Why 7 Deadly Diseases Strike Blacks Most

Health care disparities heighten disease differences between African-Americans and white Americans.
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"We must recognize there are some arbitrary issues that are present in the way we practice medicine and dole out health care," Yancy tells WebMD. "It forces us to think very carefully about the very volatile issue of race and what race means. At the end of the day, all of us acknowledge that race is a very poor physiological construct. Race is a placeholder for something else. That something is less likely to be genetic. It is more likely to have to do with socioeconomics and political issues of bias as well as physiologic and genetic issues that go into that same bucket. Some racial differences are more nuances. But there are issues of disparity and there are issues relative to racism that operate in a very broad context."

Like Yancy, LeRoy M. Graham Jr., MD, says the time is ripe for Americans to come to grips with these issues. Graham, a pediatric lung expert, serves on the American Lung Association's board of directors, is associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and serves as staff physician for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"I just think we as physicians need to get more impassioned," Graham tells WebMD. "There are health disparities. There are things that may have more sinister origins in institutionalized racism. But we as doctors need to spend more time recognizing these disparities and addressing them -- together with our patients -- on a very individual level."

Black Americans and Lung Disease

A 2005 report from the American Lung Association shows that black Americans suffer far more lung disease than white Americans do.

Some of the findings:

  • Black Americans have more asthma than any racial or ethnic group in America. And blacks are 3 times more likely to die of asthma than whites.
  • Black Americans are 3 times more likely to suffer sarcoidosis than white Americans. The lung-scarring disease is 16 times more deadly for blacks than for whites.
  • Black American children are 3 times as likely as white American children to have sleep apnea.
  • Black American babies die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) 2.5 times as often as white American babies.
  • Black American men are 50% more likely to get lung cancer than white American men.
  • Black Americans are half as likely to get flu and pneumonia vaccinations as white Americans.

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