Ways to Boost A Black Woman's Health
(BlackDoctor.org) — African Americans overall don’t get the same level of heart disease care as whites because they don’t undergo the same tests and treatments. A lack of standard care can lead to late diagnoses of cancer as well, resulting in poorer survival rates for African Americans than for whites. African Americans are less likely than whites to survive five years after being diagnosed with most types of cancer.
African American women are more likely than white women to succumb to top killers. They are 35 percent more likely to die from heart disease, for example, according to the National Women’s Health Information Center, and the top cancer threats for black women are lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Here’s what women can do to raise their odds of good health:
Get recommended screenings. Ask your doctor which diseases you should be screened for regularly. According to the American Cancer Society, just 64.9 percent of African American women ages 40 and older in 2005 said they’d had a mammogram in the prior two years, compared with 68.1 percent of white women; 49.9 percent said they’d had a mammogram in the previous year, compared with 52.9 percent of white women. Women ages 40 and older should get mammograms annually, and they should have yearly breast exams by a healthcare professional.
Regular pap smears are called for, and women should consider regular screening for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. “We know that sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, are extremely common, and women don’t know everything that they should know about STIs, how to prevent those infections,” says Hilda Hutcherson, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University in New York. It may be up to you to ask to be tested. “Sometimes, the doctor may just assume that if you want it, you’re going to ask for it yourself,” Hutcherson says.
Colorectal cancer screening rates have also been traditionally low among African Americans. In 1987, just 18 percent of African American women and 15 percent of African American men said they’d had a recent test; in 2005, those rates had increased to 40 percent—a vast improvement but still not as high as health officials would like to see.
Exercise regularly. African American women and girls are more likely to be overweight and obese than their white counterparts. And obesity ups the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many cancers. Few black women say they exercise regularly, according to the 2006 National Health Interview Survey, yet regular physical activity has a number of health benefits, including weight management, chronic disease prevention, and improving your mood. It is suggested that women focus on a combination of cardio and strength training in their 20s. By the time they reach their 40s, they should try to combine cardiovascular and toning exercises.
Eat right. If you’re single in your 20s, focus on cooking healthful meals for yourself. In your 30s, 40s, and beyond, make it a family affair. Don’t give up, even if diabetes, high blood pressure, or other problems put you at higher risk for other chronic diseases. It’s never too late to make changes in your life.
By Brittany Gatson, BDO Staff Writer