The 10 Biggest Killers of Blacks

Ebony, July 2001 | Go to article overview

The 10 Biggest Killers of Blacks


Regular checkups, changes in diet and lifestyle can prevent many of the health threats that affect African-Americans

SUPPOSE the entire population of Birmingham Ala., vanished. Just imagine that in one instant everyone who lived there suddenly disappeared. By this time next year, that's about the number of African-Americans (more than a quarter million people) who will die from the 10 biggest killers of Blacks of all ages(*)--heart disease, cancer, accidents, stroke, homicide, AIDS, diabetes, pneumonia and influenza, chronic pulmonary diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and infant mortality.

Fortunately, experts say, with regular checkups and simple changes in lifestyle and nutrition, many of these health threats can be avoided.

The No. 1 medical threat to African-Americans is heart disease. A silent killer, this illness primarily strikes when fat collects in the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of blood to the heart. Obesity and high blood pressure make Blacks waiting victims for not only heart problems but also cancer and stroke, a condition caused when blood vessels rupture in the brain or blood clots prevent oxygen from reaching the brain. These diseases are the same leading health threats that plague Whites. But, doctors say, by the time most Blacks are diagnosed with these illnesses, they are more likely to die.

The top killers vary by gender and by age. For young African-Americans (ages 25-44), the leading threat remains AIDS, a disease this group contracts four times more often than Whites, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And for Blacks in their late teens to early 20s, the biggest danger is homicide--often at the hands of another African-American.

Although research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta indicates that America's health has improved overall, the health status of Blacks is frightening, even with recent advancements. The death rate of African-American women from coronary heart disease is more than 30 percent than for White women. Blacks have almost twice as many strokes as Whites. And according to the American Cancer Society, Black men have the highest rate of prostate cancer in the world.

New risks unfold each day. A growing threat to young African-Americans, officials say, is suicide, which ranks among the CDC's Top 10 major killers of Blacks from their teens to mid-40s.

Top 10 Killers Of Blacks

PROBLEM            RISK FACTORS

HEART DISEASE      Obesity, high blood
                   pressure, high-fat
                   diets, smoking

CANCER             Smoking, obesity,
                   high-fat diets, alcohol
                   consumption, family
                   environment

ACCIDENTS          N/A

STROKE             Obesity, high blood
                   pressure, high-fat
                   diets

HOMICIDE           N/A

AIDS               Unprotected sex,
                   intravenous drug use

DIABETES           Obesity, stress, fami-
                   ly history of the
                   disease

PNEUMONIA          Smoking, alcohol con-
AND INFLUENZA      sumption, people with
                   diabetes, cancer, AIDS

ASTHMA AND         Smoking, unclean
BRONCHITIS         conditions, poverty

INFANT MORTALITY   Lack of prenatal care,
                   poverty

PROBLEM            DESCRIPTION

HEART DISEASE      Heart disease is caused primarily by fatty
                   deposits that collect in the coronary arteries
                   and reduce the flow of blood to the heart.

CANCER             Cancer is a group of diseases character-
                   ized by the growth or spread of abnormal
                   cells,

ACCIDENTS          N/A

STROKE             Stroke is caused by ruptured blood vessels
                   in the brain or when blood clots block an
                   artery to the brain,

HOMICIDE           N/A

AIDS               Results when the human immunodeficiency
                   virus (HIV) infects the body's white blood
                   cells. … 

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