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African-Americans are living longer, but racial disparity still exists, according to CDC

By Sally Robertson, BScMay 3, 2017

A report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown there is still disparity between African-Americans (blacks) and whites in terms of life expectancy.

Although the overall death rate among blacks has fallen by about 25% in the U.S., life expectancy among blacks is still four years less than among whites.

Younger black people (in their 20s, 30s and 40s) are more likely to live with or die from conditions that usually only affect white people once they are older; conditions such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

The findings come from an analysis of health data from the US Census Bureau’s National Vital Statistics System and the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Age-specific data and death rates were analyzed for age groups 18–34, 35–49, 50–64 and older among black and white individuals between 1999 and 2015.

According to the report, death rates fell significantly for both races, as did the racial disparity in death rates, which was 33% in 1999, compared with 16% in 2015.

However, the data also showed that blacks aged 18–34 and 35–49 are twice as likely as whites to die from heart disease, diabetes or stroke and up to nine times more likely to die from HIV. Death due to homicide among blacks remained unchanged over the 17 years of the study and among people aged 18 to 64, the risk of early death was significantly higher among blacks than whites.

Associate director of the CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, Leandris Liburd, says that although there have been remarkable improvements in death rates among the black population due to overall health improvements, there is still a long way to go:

“Early health interventions can lead to longer, healthier lives. In particular, diagnosing and treating the leading diseases that cause death at earlier stages is an important step for saving lives.”

According to the report, social and economic factors such as poverty are partly accountable for the differences in health. Across all age groups, educational attainment and home ownership were lower among blacks, who were also nearly twice as likely to suffer from poverty and unemployment. Factors such as these possibly limit blacks’ access to the healthcare that would prevent and treat disease.

Lead author of the study, Timothy Cunningham (Division of Population Health, CDC) says: “It is important that we continue to create opportunities for all Americans to pursue a healthy lifestyle… Public health professionals must work across all sectors to promote health at early ages.”

Liburd adds: “African-American health is improving, and many of the disparities we see in the chronic diseases are largely preventable.”

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