With Black History Month upon us, we have decided to make a small contribution to black health and wellness by highlighting specific African-American health disparities.

What Is BHM or Black History Month?

Since 1976, Black History Month has become an annual event that celebrates the many successes of African Americans as well as an opportunity to honor African American’s pivotal role in the history of the United States.

Black History Month had its roots in ‘Negro History Week” – the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson and other well-known African Americans. Woodson was a renowned U.S. historian, journalist, and author who became one of the first academics to study African American history and the African diaspora. No answer to the question “What is Black History Month” can be complete without mentioning his name.

Illnesses and Diseases that Disproportionately Affect the American Black Community

Unfortunately, there are still many African Americans who experience a disproportionate amount of health disparities. For example, doctors are regularly diagnosing diseases that would typically only occur in older people in younger African Americans. Examples include diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Although genetics might, to a certain extent, play a role in African American health disparities, socio-economic circumstances  play an essential role in the prevalence of African American health issues.


Also known as high blood sugar, diabetes has become a significant health concern for many African Americans. The likelihood that a member of this population group will be diagnosed with diabetes is, in fact, nearly double that of a non-Hispanic white person. Apart from that, African Americans also have a higher probability of developing complications after being diagnosed with diabetes, which can include amputations and end-stage renal failure.

Sickle Cell Anemia

While the likelihood of a white American developing this disease is extremely rare, it affects no less than 1 in 500 African Americans. Currently, over 90,000 members of the African American population group suffer from this disease, making it a serious threat to black health and wellness.

In a healthy individual, oxygen is delivered to all parts of the body by round red blood cells traveling through the small arteries. However, in somebody who suffers from sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells become rigid and sticky and resemble a sickle, a curved hook.

These cells have a reduced life span, creating a chronic scarcity of red blood cells known as anemia. On their journey through the arteries, the sickle cells are prone to get stuck, and this, in turn, hampers blood flow. The result can be pain, weakness, stroke, kidney disease, infection, or acute chest syndrome. The latter is a severe condition that causes chest pain, fever, and breathing issues. It can reduce life expectancy by up to 30 years. There is only one cure for this condition: a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, where normal red blood cells are transferred from a healthy person to the patient.


Although cancer is the second biggest killer among all population groups in the United States, African American males have a 50% higher likelihood than their white counterparts of developing lung cancer. They also have a higher probability of getting prostate cancer or suffering from an enlarged prostate. African males, in fact, have the highest likelihood of all ethnic groups of developing terminal cancer.

African American females who are younger than 35, on the other hand, have twice the likelihood of their Caucasian counterparts to develop breast cancer and a 42% higher chance of dying from it.

What makes these trends an even worse threat to black health and wellness is that unsatisfactory access to proper healthcare often leads to outcomes that could have been prevented. Someone who is not diagnosed and referred for treatment (such as chemotherapy) as early as possible has a higher likelihood of developing complications and an increased probability of dying.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the single largest cause of death among Americans. Over the last 50 years, the prevalence of heart disease among white Americans has been dropping steadily. A similar drop has sadly not been recorded in the case of African Americans, and heart disease remains one of the most prominent African American health issues.

Statistics show that the problem is not so much that higher numbers of African Americans suffer from heart disease. It is, instead, that this group has a higher likelihood of dying from a cardiovascular event than other population groups.

African Americans between 18 and 49 are twice as likely to die of a heart condition than other population groups. The 2010 Affordable Care Act aimed to make healthcare accessible to all U.S. citizens. While this legislation has ensured better healthcare for all Americans, a large health disparity remains within the African American community.


There is also a disproportionately high incidence of diseases that affect veins and arteries (vascular diseases) among African Americans. In fact, this group has a higher occurrence of strokes than any other population group in the United States – and they are having strokes earlier in life. This is why strokes have become one of the most serious African American health issues.

African Americans also have double the likelihood of dying of a stroke when compared to other ethnicities. And if they do survive the stroke, they are more likely to have problems with everyday activities or become disabled.


According to a study carried out in 2018, the risk of an African American (non-Hispanic) person developing asthma is about 40% higher than that of their white non-Hispanic counterpart. At the time these results were released, 10.6% of non-Hispanic African Americans had asthma, compared to 7.6% of their white counterparts.

Another disturbing piece of data is that an African American with asthma is five times as likely to end up in an emergency room than their white counterpart. And an African American is nearly three times more likely to die during an asthma attack than a white person.


African Americans have a significantly higher mortality rate from pneumonia than their white counterparts. An African American male is 58% more likely to die from pneumonia than a white male. And an African American woman is 26% more likely to die from this disease than her white counterpart.

A 1987 study showed a mortality rate for pneumonia and influenza of 18.2 per 100,000 African Americans. At the time, the corresponding figure for white people was 12.5 per 100,000.


HIV has a much more significant impact on the African American community than on other ethnic groups in the U.S. This is apparent from the fact that although African Americans make up only 12% of the country’s population, in 2019, they accounted for nearly 43% of total HIV cases.

According to a CDC report released in 2018, an African American female was 14 times more likely to contract HIV than her white counterpart. And an African American who contracts HIV has a higher likelihood of dying than a member of any other population group in the U.S.

While genetics can share part of the blame, the truth is that many African Americans still do not have access to the same education, support, testing, and healthcare options as other population groups. This means they might, in the first place, not be aware of their HIV status. And even if they knew their status, they were not as likely to get the standard ART treatment needed.

The Bottom Line

It can be difficult to narrow down such an important topic, but the hope is to bring awareness to some of the illnesses that are prevalent within the African American community.

Whether you are genetically predisposed to any of the health issues stated in this article or find would like more information on the ailments that may be prevalent within your population group, TopLine MD Alliance affiliated physicians can help answer any questions you may have.

To schedule an appointment today, click the free Find a Provider button that you see above. This tool makes it easier than ever to find a doctor near you. Every TopLine MD Alliance affiliated physician is understanding, compassionate, and knowledgeable.

The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.