Health Inequities: Black Lives Matter!

Zip code is the best predictor of how healthy a person is and will be. Why is there a zip line to health?

Health Inequities: Black Lives Matter!

Zip code is the best predictor of how healthy a person is and will be. Why is there a zip line to health?

Your zip code is determined by income and wealth – and the racialized public policies and practices over generations that herded people of color into neighborhoods that were underserved by design, and that created white suburbs with publicly funded amenities.

But it is not just the poor living conditions that take their toll. Racism itself is a major factor.

Whites in 1950 could expect to live to 69; it wasn’t until 40 years later that blacks could expect to live that long. Between 1968 and 1978 (what some are now calling the “Second Reconstruction”) income gaps AND black/white health gaps narrowed. But after 1984, as affirmative action was dismantled, black – but not white – life expectancy declined. There is now a five year gap.

It has been assumed that teenage women who get pregnant will have more sickly babies than those who delay child bearing until their 20’s. That is in fact true for white women, but black women in their 20’s have more babies who die in their first month of life than black teen mothers. Why? There is a “weathering” effect of living in places without access to healthy foods, which are sited close to toxic dumps or incinerators spewing particulate matter, which have few jobs and housing with mold and mice, and whose only abundances are liquor stores, fast food joints, and payday loan shops. The effective is cumulative, the harm residing and growing in our bodies.

But it is not just the poor living conditions that take their toll. Racism itself is a major factor.

First, there is the perpetual state of stress that African Americans live in. It is not just the fear of being attacked by a policeman, although that fear is real and justified. Everyday experiences of discrimination such as not being treated with equal courtesy to whites, receiving poorer services when shopping, sensing people fear you, and other occurrences (that have been turned into an assessment tool by Dr. David Williams) put the body into constant “fight or flight” mode, which includes suppression of the immune system – again, with cumulative effects.

Second, when it comes to getting health care, it was found that when blacks and whites had the same symptoms and the same levels of income and insurance, black patients were not given equal access to heart surgery. With all factors but race held constant, they were up to seven times less likely to receive pain medication in emergency rooms!

Enraged by police disregard for the lives of African Americans, many are protesting in the streets. But it is not just the police. Doctors also “mis-treat” African Americans. In the criminal justice system, the economic system, the health care system, inequities are not acceptable: Black Lives Matter!

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