Archive for March, 2012

Is Being Black Bad for Your Health?

Will Ferrell recently tweeted, “I live in a country where a chick that threw flour on Kim Kardashian was arrested on site but the man who killed Trayvon Martin is still free.”

The shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old unarmed African American male, by George Zimmerman, a 28 year-old white man, has sparked conversations and debates across the country regarding race in America. This tragedy has also ignited a “hoodie” movement that silently expresses solidarity and anger over justice delayed.
While the nation protests and the Justice Department continues its investigation, we must ask ourselves: how much better off are we today than we were 4 years ago? This is a question typically posed in reference to our economy. But, the question is also relevant for our social condition. With the election of President Obama came heightened anxiety by whites and a collective culture of fear that has manifested in rising gun sales and cries of self-defense in response to shooting an unarmed Black teenager.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is not about a suspicious Black male in a hoodie, a racial slur during a 911 call or Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The fact that a Black male is not safe in a public space is a reflection of a history of violence against African Americans and institutionalized racism in the United States. The vulnerability of African Americans, Black men in particular, is demonstrated by a pattern of racism by the Sanford police department against African Americans and its decision to try a case according to legislation rather than using probable cause – the standard by which an officer has the grounds to make an arrest – and allowing a jury to decide.

Is being Black bad for your health? Race-related stressors such as experiences of discrimination, have been consistently linked to poor physical and mental health among African Americans, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, depression and anxiety (see my paper titled “Racial Discrimination, Mood Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease Among Black Americans” in Annals of Epidemiology). Racial discrimination is also linked to mortality rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American men have the lowest life expectancy than any other gender, racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Even more telling is that African Americans, as a whole, have the highest rate of premature death – as measured by years of potential life lost (YPLL). YPLL is a summary measure of premature mortality or early death. It represents the total number of years not lived by people who die before reaching age 75. Deaths among younger persons contribute more to the YPLL measure than deaths among older persons. The YPLL rate for African Americans is approximately two times the rate for whites. In other words, twice as many African Americans die before their time than whites.

No doubt the stress associated with being a Black male in America is an underlying cause of their reported higher morbidity and mortality rates. And stress in contagious. Not only does it affect each of us directly in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods, but it affects us indirectly as it reverberates across families and communities with each assault committed against a Black body.

As we all wait for the impending arrest of George Zimmerman and witness along with the nation and the world, the spectacle of his trial that will be laced with racial politics, anger and demands for justice, may we continue to heal from our losses, pray for the living and rally for justice.

To your health,


March 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm 1 comment

My Inspiration? A Healthy Black America

As I left the gym today, determined not to let another two weeks go by without working out, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to deal with the guilt of sitting down for the rest of the day to work without doing something active. The truth is, if I don’t make the time to go to the gym, I would have very little physical activity for the day. The majority of my work requires that I sit in front of a computer. Being gluten- and dairy-free, consuming fresh and often organic fruits and vegetables, eliminating fried foods, shellfish and pork from my diet unfortunately does not automatically translate into being thin. Keeping the weight off is a constant struggle for me. It’s a battle that I fight every day and I often wonder if I will ever win. Being thin is not the goal. But, being healthy is. Diabetes, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer – the leading causes of death for African Americans – have gravely impacted by family. So, being slightly obsessive about my weight is less about appearance and more about living.

Black women have the highest prevalence rate of obesity in the United States. Nearly 50% of us are overweight or obese. As we age, the prevalence rate increases to over 60% for Black women over 60 years of age. It is estimated that if current trends persist, all Black women will be overweight or obese by 2034. Many researchers are now identifying obesity as the main factor driving racial disparities in health among women.

I started this blog because of the obesity epidemic and the host of other chronic health conditions and mental health problems that exist in Black communities across the country. In Los Angeles, the 10th most segregated city in the U.S. where over 3.7 million people reside, disparities in health by race and income are ubiquitous and systematically distributed by zip code. South Los Angeles (formerly South Central LA), where of 31% of African American Los Angelenos live (down from 71% since 1980) has the highest rate of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, hypertension, and mental distress in Los Angeles County. South LA also has the highest adult sedentary behavior and the poorest adult nutrition ratings in the County.

Several factors contribute to poor physical and mental health in South LA and other predominantly Black and low-income neighborhoods across the country; many of which I will be discussing in future blogs. But it’s safe to say that factors range from the level of policy to individual behavior; individual behavior being the primary focus of policy makers and interventions. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign highlights the importance of physical activity, access and consumption of healthy foods to combat childhood obesity. Less discussed, however, is the impact of segregation, food deserts, the high cost of fresh produce and organic foods, social stress, the dearth of safe places to walk, the marketing of high-calorie and low nutrient-dense food, the higher prevalence of fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and the general lack of health supportive resources in Black and low-income neighborhoods compared to non-Hispanic white and more affluent neighborhoods.

It is important for individuals to make healthy choices. But, wouldn’t it be easier to make those choices if there were more healthy options? Many of the barriers to good health can be manipulated at different levels of government using the traditional policy levers, including regulations, taxes, subsidies, and information campaigns focusing on education, transportation, urban planning, healthcare, agriculture and food assistance programs. But we can’t wait for policies. We need to take our health – physical and mental – into our own hands. Educate, advocate, lead, support. Let’s move. Let’s act!

To your health,


March 17, 2012 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

Welcome to Healthy Black America!


Here is where I’ll be posting my musings and observations about a variety of health-related topics.  Please be sure you are subscribed to both this post and my newsletter at for updates and news!



March 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.