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November 19, 2001 Contact: HHS Office of Minority
Health (301) 443-5224

"Closing the Health Gap":
Reducing Health Disparities Affecting African-Americans


Overview: "Closing the Health Gap" is a health information and education campaign designed to integrate health messages into the regular programming of ABC Radio Networks and ABC Radio's Urban Advantage Network. The partnership between HHS and ABC Radio aims to inform and educate African-Americans about the health gap and empower individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles. "Closing the Health Gap" supports HHS' efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities and the goals of Healthy People 2010, the nation's prevention agenda for improving public health.

Background:

As part of HHS' Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health, HHS is focusing on six major areas in which racial and ethnic minorities experience serious disparities in health access and outcomes - diabetes, heart disease and stroke, cancer, infant mortality, child and adult immunization and HIV/AIDS. Eliminating health disparities is also a major goal of Healthy People 2010, the nation's prevention agenda. Through "Closing the Health Gap," HHS and ABC Radio Networks will include health education segments that address the major focus areas of HHS' health disparities initiative, as well as other health issues relevant to African-Americans.

Health Disparities Affecting African-Americans

Disparities in the burden of death and illness experienced by African-Americans, as compared with the U.S. population as a whole, have existed since the government began tracking such statistics. These disparities persist, and in some areas continue to grow. The following statistics illustrate some of the major areas of concern for African-Americans.

Life Expectancy and Death Rates

At birth, the average life expectancy for African-Americans is 71.8 years, compared to 77.4 years for whites. Life expectancy at birth for black males is 68.3 years, compared with 74.8 years for white males. Life expectancy at birth for black females was 75 years, compared with 80 years for white females. Almost 282,000 African-Americans died in 2000. The age-adjusted death rate for the black population was 30 percent higher than for the non-Hispanic white population.

Diabetes

In 1999, 11,927 African-Americans died from diabetes, the sixth leading cause of death for this population. The African-American death rate due to diabetes was more than twice that for whites, when differences in age distribution were taken into account. In addition to the deaths it causes, diabetes may result in serious complications, including kidney disease, blindness and amputations.

Heart Disease

In 1999, 78,574 African-Americans died from heart disease, the leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups. African-Americans were 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease than whites when differences in age distributions were taken into account.

Cancer

In 1999, 61,951 African-Americans died from cancer, the second leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups. In 1999, African-Americans were 30 percent more likely to die of cancer than whites when differences in age distributions were taken into account.

Infant Mortality

According to "Health, United States, 2000," infant mortality rates are more than twice as high for African-Americans (14.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 1999) than for whites (5.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births). There were 8,822 infant deaths in 1999.

HIV/AIDS

In 1999, 7,893 African-Americans died of HIV/AIDS, the sixth leading cause of death for African-American males, and the 10th leading cause of death for African-American females. In 2000, 47 percent of all cases reported in the U.S. were among African-Americans, and the rate of new AIDS cases among African-Americans was almost 10 times higher than among non-Hispanic whites. In AIDS cases among all African-American females, 55 percent were due to injection drug use or sex with an injecting drug user.

Stroke

In 1999, 18,884 African-Americans died from stroke, the third leading cause of death for all racial and ethnic groups. African-Americans were 40 percent more likely to die of stroke than whites in 1999, when differences in age distributions were taken into account.

Homicide

In 1999, 7,648 African-Americans died from homicide, the eighth leading cause of death for this population. African-Americans were 5.4 times as likely as whites to die of homicide in 1999, even when differences in age distributions were taken into account. Homicide was the leading cause of death for black males ages 15-34.

Women's Health

African-American women are less likely to receive care, and when they do receive it, are more likely to have received it late. For example, one out of four African-American mothers did not receive prenatal care during the first trimester during 1999. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Approximately 69 percent of African-American women between the ages of 20 and 74 were overweight during the period 1988 through 1994.

Immunizations

One out of four African-American children aged 19-35 months old did not receive recommended vaccinations in 1999. About 47 percent of elderly African-Americans received the flu vaccine in 1998, compared with 66 percent of elderly whites. About 26 percent of elderly African-Americans received a pneumonia vaccine in 1998, compared with 50 percent of elderly whites.

Substance Abuse

In 2000, approximately one-third of new AIDS cases among African-American women were due to injection drug use or sex with an injection drug user. Recent illicit drug use was more common among African-American adults (8 percent) than among white adults (5.7 percent) in 1998. However, African-American teenagers ages 12-17 years were less likely to use alcohol, marijuana or cocaine than white teenagers in 1999.

Mental Health

According to the 2001 Surgeon General's report on mental health, the prevalence of mental disorders is believed to be higher among African-Americans than among whites, and African-Americans are more likely than whites to use the emergency room for mental health problems. African-Americans with depression were less likely to receive treatment than whites (16 percent compared to 24 percent). Only 26 percent of African-Americans with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder received treatment for their disorder, compared with 39 percent of whites with a similar diagnosis.

Organ and Tissue Donation

Currently, 21,140 African-Americans are on waiting lists for organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. African-Americans comprised 35 percent of the waiting lists for kidney transplants. African-Americans are almost four times as likely to have end-stage renal disease than whites, but they are less likely to be evaluated and placed on waiting lists for kidney transplants in a timely manner. Once on the list, they also tend to wait longer for a transplant. Exact causes are unclear.

Family Caregiving

African-American caregivers are more likely than other groups to report dementia and stroke in their care recipients - adding to the demands of their responsibilities. A higher proportion of black caregivers report having suffered physical and mental health problems a result of caregiving.

Suicide

In 1999, African-Americans were half as likely to die of suicide in 1999 than whites, even when differences in age distributions were taken into account. Still, 463 African-Americans ages 15-24 died from suicide in 1999. It was the third leading cause of death for blacks in this age group. Between 1980 and 1995, the suicide rate among African-Americans ages 10-14 increased 233 percent, while the rate for whites increased 120 percent.

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Last revised: November 19, 2001