Since the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy for all Americans has increased significantly. Despite this, minority groups, especially African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and American Indians, have persistently been the victim of health disparities like higher rates of diabetes and cancer. Underlying these health disparities? A shorter life expectancy and higher rates of mortality for minorities who suffer from these diseases. Evidentially, death row isn’t the only place where an early ending lurks around the corner.
Diabetes is a condition that racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately experience compared to white Americans. Specifically, minorities experience higher rates of prevalence, worse control of diabetes, and more instances of diabetic complications. Additionally, minorities across the board suffer significantly higher diabetic-related mortality rates than their white counterparts. In California, diabetic mortality rates (per 100,000) in 1998 were 60 for Hispanic Americans, 98 for African Americans, and only 38 for white Americans . These disparities in diabetic onset and mortality both contribute to a significantly reduced life expectancy for diabetic Black Americans compared to diabetic White Americans.
Cancer, like diabetes, is a disease that has both sociological (largely preventable) and biological (not preventable) components. Cancer particularly impacts Black Americans and other minorities harder than white Americans . Across the board in Cincinnati, the state of Ohio, and the United States, both incidence and mortality rates for all types of cancer was higher for blacks (especially black men) than for whites . Nationally, blacks have a cancer incidence rate of 453.4 (per 100,000), while whites have a rate of 448.8. More shockingly, blacks have a cancer mortality rate of 189.8 (per 100,000) while whites have a rate of 163.8 . This difference in health outcome and life expectancy is likely a result of the many disparities in healthcare; for example, reduced access to care due to a lack of transportation.
While the national mortality rates for diabetes and cancer have declined, the disparity that exists between blacks and whites in mortality for a range of diseases is indicative of other, external social factors impacting care, like poverty and lifestyle choices. These social determinants of health play a much larger role in health outcomes and life expectancy than most people expect. In fact, health outcomes are more than 50 percent determined by the social and economic conditions that a person lives and works under. Unfortunately, without new policies, community empowerment, and strong advocacy for change, it is unlikely that these circumstances will improve for many African-Americans who need them to the most. You don’t have to be in prison to be on death row.