Death rates higher for poor black Americans

February 25, 2011 By Carl Sherman, Health Behavior News Service

In 2000, a black, working-aged resident of a poor neighborhood was significantly more likely to die than a white American — a situation that essentially remained unchanged from 20 years earlier, according to a study in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

“The public health profession has been committed to reducing, if not eliminating, racial disparities in health and according to these measures, the glass of progress is at best half full,” said Arline Geronimus, ScD, lead study author.

The failure to reduce the toll of chronic illness is of particular concern, said Geronimus, a professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan.

The researchers analyzed death-certificate data for three predominantly black, poor, urban neighborhoods, two comparable rural communities and a poor white urban,and a poor white rural community.

Yearly death rates for black men and women ages 16 to 65 in these communities were higher than for whites nationwide — nearly three times higher, for example, for a resident of eastside Detroit.

A 16-year-old male in Detroit, Chicago’s South Side or Harlem had a 50 percent to 62 percent chance of surviving to age 65, compared with 80 percent for a typical white male the same age, the researchers found.

White working-aged residents of poor urban communities and residents of poor rural areas also died sooner than most Americans, although the difference was not as marked.

in groups studied had declined from 1990 to 2000, but this latest finding essentially meant a return to 1980 levels.

While reasons for persistent disparities in mortality remain unclear, the analysis suggested that illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease are a main factor. “We haven’t adequately addressed prevention and management of chronic disease” in these communities, Geronimus said.

The largest improvement in mortality from 1990 to 2000 was among urban black males and largely reflected fewer homicides. Gains for black women were small and their cancer rates actually increased, Geronimus said.

Brian Smedley, Ph.D., vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, said that these findings spotlight the importance of community factors. “If you live in a high-poverty area, your risk of early death rises substantially,” he said. “In many cases your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code.”

While most health promotion efforts focus on individual behavior, “this research expands our lens,” Smedley said. Beyond the direct impact of factors like pollution and violence, local variations in accessibility of fresh foods, recreational facilities and medical care “often shape what individuals do.”

Geronimus said a vital need is research that disentangles links between race, poverty and mortality, but in the meantime, “we should target urban high-poverty areas for better diagnosis and management of chronic disease to prevent excess deaths.”

More information: Geronimus AT, Bound J, Colen CG. Excess black mortality in the United States and in selected black and white high-poverty areas, 1980-2000. Am J Public Health 101(4), 2011.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
Well, we sure as heck want to keep them poor so I guess they will have to die. Wouldn't want to change that wealth distribution gap (except of course giving more to millionaires and billionaires so they can use that wealth to help those less fortunate with the trickle down effect or buy yachts, whichever is more important).

LOL, every time I heard about trickle down from that rich POS Bush I got the image of him pissing on the poor. Who needs wealth distribution, a huge income gap that is getting bigger helps keep the population down evidently.

Why aren't some of you republican cheerleaders chiming in on THIS article as a good example of why redistribution of wealth is a bad idea and socialism? After all, this must be the kind of effect you want.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.