During Black History Month, we'd like to draw attention to what have been and continue to be some of the greatest health challenges for this community. African Americans develop diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes at a much higher rate than other ethnicities. As we look toward a healthier future for all people, we want those statistics to change.
Lifestyle factors make the biggest difference in whether you'll get one of these conditions. That means the steps you take now can have a huge impact on your future health. Read on to learn how you and your family can beat the odds.
Double Risk for Diabetes
African Americans are almost twice as likely as whites to develop diabetes, a condition that makes it difficult for your body to process sugar in your blood. Even worse, African Americans are also more susceptible to disease complications like kidney failure and limb amputations. Having diabetes also makes you prone to heart disease, which is the number one cause of death for all Americans.
No matter your ethnicity, keeping off extra weight through diet and exercise is the first line of defense against adult-onset diabetes, or type 2 diabetes. Four out of five African American women in the U.S. are carrying around extra weight and could lower their chances for diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight.
Action Step: Follow a healthy eating style to control weight. Need help creating balanced meal plans? Talk to a registered dietitian at a nutritional counseling appointment.
Highest Rate of High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when your blood is pumped with a greater-than-normal force against the walls of your veins and arteries. One in every three African Americans has high blood pressure - the highest rate in the world. Typically, high blood pressure doesn't produce symptoms until you have a stroke or are diagnosed with heart disease. That's why it's often called "the silent killer."
Research suggests that African Americans may inherit a gene from their parents that makes them more sensitive to salt, which can increase blood pressure. If you have this gene, an extra half teaspoon of salt a day can negatively impact blood pressure. While you can't change your family history, you can make lifestyle adjustments like reducing your salt intake, limiting alcohol consumption and managing your weight.
Action Step: Be sure to have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. If you do have high blood pressure, work with your family doctor to keep it in check through lifestyle changes and medication. Improving your blood pressure could cut your risk of stroke by as much as 48 percent.
Strokes Are More Common in African Americans
A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or severely limited. Because risk factors for stroke like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are more prevalent in African Americans, they often have strokes earlier in life and are twice as likely to die from them as whites. Sickle cell anemia is a genetic condition in African Americans that can contribute to stroke risk also.
The good news: Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through choices you make. Smoking doubles your stroke risk, so actions like quitting smoking, and taking steps to lower your blood pressure can make a big impact on whether or not you suffer from a stroke.
Action Step: Research indicates that getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise (activity that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat) reduces your stroke risk. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
To take good care of your health, don't forget to get an annual physical exam. Your doctor can help you determine your specific risk factors and provide guidance on how to avoid illnesses that could affect you and your family.
If you know others who have the same concerns as you, be sure to share this article with them. Awareness is critical!
High Blood Pressure and African Americans
Sodium and People with Diabetes