MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Black History Month is observed each February. It is a time to recognize the struggles – and celebrate the accomplishments – of generations of Black and African Americans. It is also a time to acknowledge and address the common health disparities faced by these and other minority populations in the United States.
There’s perhaps no better way to accomplish all the above than by examining the life and achievements of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams.
A Pioneer in medicine and equity
Born in 1856, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams followed an eccentric career path, starting as a shoemaker’s apprentice before dabbling in barbering and then finally settling on the field of medicine. He earned his M.D. in 1883 and began working as one of only four Black physicians in Chicago. As his career in medicine took off, so too did his work in civil rights.
In an effort to counteract the discriminatory climate of the time, Dr. Williams founded the Provident Hospital and Training School for Nurses, which became the first hospital in the country to employ an interracial staff. In 1893, Dr. Williams further distinguished himself by performing the nation’s first open-heart surgery.
After this success, Dr. Hale continued to advocate for advances in both health equity and surgical procedures. And while today’s health professionals continue to build on Dr. Hale’s work in health care and health equity, there are still many obstacles to overcome.
Chronic health issues in Black and African American communities
In 2018, African Americans in the U.S. were 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. Here in Alabama, according to 2020 data from the Alabama Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System:
- 48% of Black or African American people surveyed are considered obese.
- 47.8% of Black or African American people surveyed have been told they have high blood pressure.
- 18.7% of Black or African American people surveyed have been told they have diabetes.
These and other chronic health issues are known to majorly impact the Black and African American communities in the state of Alabama. While there are many contributing factors to these conditions, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health is spotlighting food insecurity as a major factor impacting the health and well-being of these communities.
Food insecurity and chronic disease
In 2021, nearly 20% of Black and African American households were food insecure. Healthy People 2030 defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
Families suffering from food insecurity simply don’t have enough access to the nutritious foods necessary to lead healthy, active lives. Food insecurity can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and obesity is considered a key factor causing increased rates of diabetes.
Addressing risk factors
Food insecurity is just one of the many challenges facing the Black and African American communities in Alabama and across the nation. Many of these factors, such as family history, age, race, and ethnicity, are beyond a person’s control.
However, there are preventive measures that anyone can take to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic health issues.
Follow the links below to find tips and resources to help you lower your risk and improve your overall health:
- Eat a balanced diet (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/npa/nutrition-month.html)
- Exercise regularly (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/npa/physical-activity.html)
- Monitor your blood pressure (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/cardio/high-bp.html)
- Know your family history (www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/knowing_not_enough.htm)
- Quit smoking (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/tobacco/quitline.html)