Good news! The death rate for Black Americans living in the U.S. has decreased nearly 25 percent over the past 17 years, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bad news, however, is that although Black people are living longer, a racial health gap still persists.
For one, the life expectancy of Black Americans is four years shorter than that of whites. The analysis, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Tuesday, May 2, also showed that younger Blacks are either living with or dying from health conditions commonly found in older whites, including high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
Analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, National Vital Statistics Systems and the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, researchers saw that death rates plummeted in both Black and white populations between 1999 and 2015. The racial gap in death rates also dropped from 33 percent in 1999 to 16 percent in 2015.
Moreover, the report examined age-specific deaths related to heart disease, cancer and HIV among African-Americans, which saw significant declines during this same time period.
“Death rates from HIV among Blacks went down about 80 percent in 18-to-49-year-olds,” said Timothy Cunningham, an epidemiologist at the CDC Division of Population Health and lead author of the study.
Notable drops in HIV-related deaths were seen among whites as well, but the data indicated that Blacks are still more likely to die from the disease. African-Americans age 18-49 are twice as likely to die from heart disease as whites, according to the report, and those age 35-64 are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites. Black people also are more likely to die at early ages from all causes.
Leandris Liburd, director of the CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, said the report’s findings are unsurprising and fall in line with previous research on mortality rates between Black and white Americans.
“These findings are generally consistent with previous reports that use the term ‘weathering,’ which suggests that Blacks experience premature aging and earlier health decline than whites and that this decline in health accumulates across the entire lifespan and potentially across generations,” Liburd told CNN. “This happens as a consequence of psychosocial, economic and environmental stressors.
“I can’t say enough that we need to continue to understand both the relationship between social and economic conditions and how they impact health disparities and then identify ways that we can work to improve those conditions,” she added.
The report also highlighted social and economic conditions, such as poverty, limited access to health care, unemployment and other factors, that often exacerbate the racial health gap.
To ensure that all Americans have equal opportunity to pursue a healthy lifestyle, researchers encouraged health care providers to:
- Use proven programs to limit disparities and barriers to create health opportunities
- Connect more people to doctors, nurses or community health centers to encourage regular and follow-up visits
- Provide trainings for health care professionals to understand racial/cultural differences in how patients interact with providers and the healthcare system