April is National Minority Health Month!

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Recognizing that health is the key to progress and equity in all other things, Dr. Booker T. Washington proposed the observance of “National Negro Health Week” in April 1915. He called on local health departments, schools, churches, businesses, professional associations, and the most influential organizations in the African American community to “pull together” and “unite… in one great National Health Movement.”

That observance grew into what is today a month-long initiative to advance health equity across the country on behalf of all racial and ethnic minorities.

For the past year we have been challenged by the COVID-19 and the results of the pandemic. Discrimination and racism have long contributed to negative emotional, mental and physical health outcomes in African American communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this fact, with recent data showing that one in 1,000 Black individuals have died from the coronavirus (APM Research Lab, 2020).

So, it only makes sense that COVID-19 and control of its spread, if not its elimination, are the most important thing to address this April and thereafter. But other diseases still persist in the Black community.

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) continues to bring awareness to other health disparities that disproportionately affect African Americans. These include:

  • Diabetes is 60% more common in Black Americans than in White Americans. Blacks are up to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a limb amputation and up to 5.6 times more likely to suffer kidney disease than other people with diabetes.
  • African Americans are three times more likely to die of asthma than White Americans.
  • Deaths from lung scarring are 16 times more common among Blacks than among Whites.
  • Despite lower tobacco exposure, Black men are 50% more likely than White men to get lung cancer.
  • Strokes kill four times more 35- to 54-year-old Black Americans than White Americans. Blacks have nearly twice the first-time stroke risk of Whites.
  • Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life—and with much higher blood pressure levels—than Whites. Nearly 42% of Black men and more than 45% of Black women aged 20 and older have high blood pressure.
  • Cancer treatment is equally successful for all races. Yet Black men have a 40% higher cancer death rate than White men. African American women have a 20% higher cancer death rate than White women.

The importance of simple activity

Physical activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health. Yet, too few Americans get the recommended amount of physical activity. Only one in four adults and one in five high school students fully meet physical activity guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. These numbers are even lower among adults in some racial and ethnic minority populations.

Physical activity promotes health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases and other conditions that are often more common and more severe among racial and ethnic minority groups. Physical activity also fosters normal growth and development in children, improves mental health, and can make people feel better, function better, and sleep better.

How much physical activity do I need?

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans outlines the amounts and types of physical activity needed to maintain or improve overall health and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The guidelines recommend that adults each week get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as a brisk walk that makes your heart beat faster. You could get this amount many different ways including a 22-minute walk each day or a 30-minute walk five days a week.

How much physical activity do children need?

Preschool-aged children should do physical activity every day throughout the day for healthy growth and development. Children and adolescents starting at age six should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.

Remember that children imitate adults. You can start by adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encouraging your child to join you.

How can communities help people stay active?

Communities can create easy and safe options for physical activity that can help every American be more active where they live, learn, work and play. The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program is one of the only CDC programs that focuses on reducing chronic disease for specific racial and ethnic groups in urban, rural, and tribal communities with high disease burden across the United States.

Remember—becoming active and healthy in and around your home to stay physically and mentally well, while still doing your part to slow the spread of COVID-19, is possible through simple changes to your daily routine. So get involved this #NMHM2020.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.

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