Khaula Holness came to Howard University College of Medicine on Sept. 5 to figure out what was wrong with her. It had been a while since she’d seen a doctor and a free health screening hosted by television talk show host Dr. Mehmet Oz provided the perfect opportunity for her.
“I have a lot of pain and swelling in my joints as well as these constant headaches,” Holness said. “I’m 46 but I feel like I’m 146 and I just had to figure out why.”
Holness’ admission highlighted a major issue in the Black community in having undiagnosed illnesses. Oz said that half the people at the screening had diabetes or pre-diabetes, but only a tenth of those people knew. That not only highlights how seriously African Americans need to take their health, but how diabetes is such a problem in the Black community.
“Today, we had one 42-year-old woman with no health insurance and never had a check-up,” he said. “A healthy triglyceride level is below 150; she had a triglyceride level of 602. She basically had an oil slick inside of her body.”
According to a 2011 Centers of Disease Control (CDC) report, 18.7 percent of all Blacks over the age of 20 have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. That’s nearly double the rate of Whites at 10.2 percent. In fact, the only ethnic group that has a higher rate of diabetes is the native American.
Possibly leading to the higher diabetes rates is the obesity problem among African Americans. According to a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, 70 percent of Black men over the age of 20 and 80 percent of Black women over the age of 20 were either overweight or obese. Overall Blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be obese than Whites.
Dr. L. Ebony Boulware, associate director John Hopkins Medical Institute’s Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, said that there are several social issues that contribute to Blacks leading the nation in obesity.
“I think the environment and ability to exercise and eat healthy really influence behavior,” Boulware said. “A lot of times African Americans live in neighborhoods that are less walkable because they’re more affected by crime. You’re going to be less likely to be outside running in that environment.”
Boulware also mentioned access to health foods. She says fresh foods tend to be more expensive and not readily available as high quality fresh food markets tend not to be in low-income neighborhoods.
What’s scary is those aren’t the only major medical issues facing African Americans. HIV/AIDS continues to be a scourge to the community, according to the CDC. Blacks, only 14 percent of the American population, represented 44 percent of new HIV infections nationally in 2009. In that year, the CDC claims the rate of new infections among Black men was six and a half times higher than among White men and two and half times higher than that of Latino men. It’s a problem that Boulware says needs to be addressed more.
“We need a lot more education and awareness,” she said. “We gave it a lot of attention in the early 90’s when AIDS became an epidemic. Now the urgency has kind of fallen off and we need more targeted efforts.”
Oz is touring the country hoping to get a good read on what’s ailing people. His screenings, which last 15 minutes, gave people a real update on the state of their health.
“We want you to realize that the temple of the soul is your body and it’s the most precious thing you’ve inherited,” he said. “So what we’re doing in 15 minutes is giving people clear ideas about their health and giving them suggestions on what to do about it.”
Overall, Oz said that there was clearly an issue with obesity and related illnesses. He said he would share the data he received and make suggestions on how to encourage residents to eat healthier and become more active.