Better future for Black health

doctor with patientMany people in the US are worried and upset about the life experience of blacks in America at the moment. And while attention is very understandably drawn to the abuse of their civil rights, there’s another problem that shouldn’t be forgotten. Black people face an increased risk for a number of chronic diseases.

Blacks in America have a 50% higher risk of obesity, 70% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, 40% higher prevalence of hypertension, a 25% increased risk of stroke, and 4 times the risk of kidney disease requiring dialysis. They also have a 75% higher risk of dying from a heart attack and a 10% increased risk of dying from cancer.

Now there are many reasons for this. Among them are poverty and low income due to discrimination, lack of health insurance and access to medical care, including the inability to pay copays and deductibles when they do have health insurance. But there is another major driver, and it’s a big one – their diet.

We’ve written several times before about the strong connection between chronic diseases and diet and how they can be prevented and treated with a vegan diet. Vegans have a 78% lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a 75% reduced risk of hypertension and 48% reduced risk of stroke, 40% reduced risk of heart disease 40% reduced risk of kidney disease 46%-88% reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a 54% reduced risk of prostate cancer.

But for many black people this is easier said than done, since they often can’t easily buy healthy food. One study looked into these disparities. It defined “healthy food retailers” as grocery stores, supercenters, farmers markets, and specialized food stores such as bakeries, meat and seafood markets, dairy stores, and produce markets, all of which reliably offer fresh foods and less junk foods. “Unhealthy food retailers” were defined to include fast food restaurants and convenience stores, which offer a more limited selection of food and are centered on highly processed and junk food.

Convenience store NYThe study showed that counties with higher-than-average percentages of black residents have both fewer healthy food retailers and more unhealthy food retailers. Many black people live in what are known as food deserts.

Food deserts, areas in which residents are hard pressed to find affordable, healthy food, are part of the landscape of poor, urban neighborhoods across the United States. With few supermarkets or farmers markets, it’s easier to find a Slurpee than a smoothie, cheaper to get the Big Mac meal than grab dinner at a salad bar.

The good news is that the fastest growing segment of the plant-based population is the African Americans. Influenced by Black rappers and musicians, such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Jermain Dupri and Cardi B, plus radio hosts and producers such as Russel Simmons and Keith Tucker, the Black population now sees going vegan as a way to take control of their own health, as well as help heal the planet.

A recent Neilsen survey found African Americans are 48% more likely than the average U.S. consumer to incorporate plant-based foods, and a Gallup survey found that while white people reported eating 19 percent less meat in the past 12 months, people of color reported eating 31 percent less meat.  This change in diet will have an impact on the demand for fresh and healthy foods, which in turn will influence grocery stores to move into areas they previously avoided. Hopefully this in turn will help more African Americans improve their diet and reduce their burden of chronic disease.