Debunking the myth that Blacks "Naturally" have shorter lifespans
Jul 18 2013, 11:28 am ET
Homicide 'directly affecting' racial gap in U.S. life expectancy, study shows
by Dr. Tyeese Gaines
Americans are now living longer than years prior -- with a life expectancy of 78.7 years -- according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White females have the longest life expectancy at 81.3 years, black females at 78 years, white males at 76.5 years and black males have the shortest at 71.8 years.
Los Angeles Times
24 Sep 2015 at 13:44 ET
Black patients fare better than whites when both get same health care, study finds
On most health measures, blacks fare much worse than whites — differences that have largely been attributed to socioeconomic factors, access to health care and discrimination by doctors in the treatments they prescribe.
But if there were a health system in which all patients basically got the same care, would the disparities still exist?
It turns out there is such a system: the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And a new analysis of nearly 3.1 million patients in the VA system has found a different kind of racial divide: Blacks do significantly better than whites.
Over a nine-year period, researchers found that the adjusted mortality rate of African Americans was 24 percent lower than that of whites, according to a study published this month in the journal Circulation.
"We thought we were going to show they do the same if the same care is offered to both groups," said senior author Dr. Kamyar Kalantar-Zadeh, a nephrologist and epidemiologist at UC Irvine. "But we found blacks do even better.
"This is a paradox within a paradox," he said.
That idea is not new. Among patients with kidney disease, blacks survive longer than whites — a well-known exception to the overall pattern. Kidney care also happens to be an area of medicine without large racial disparities, since the U.S. government has long covered dialysis for anybody who needs it.
Kalantar-Zadeh and his colleagues wondered whether there were similar differences among people without kidney disease who had equal access to health care.
Using VA records, they identified 547,441 black patients and 2,525,525 white patients who had a normal kidney function test between 2004 and 2006. Most were men, and their average age was 60. The researchers tracked them for an average of eight years.
More than 638,000 died by the time the study period ended in July 2013. The annual mortality rate for white men was 31.9 per 1,000, compared with 22.5 per 1,000 for black men.
In part, that difference could be explained by the fact that the black population was six years younger on average. But after a statistical analysis taking into account a wide variety of factors — including age, gender, income, education, blood pressure, medications and body mass index — blacks were still far less likely to die during the study period.
African-American men and women were also 37 percent less likely than white men to develop heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. The researchers found no racial difference in the rate of strokes.
For comparison, the researchers conducted a similar analysis using six years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a government study of about 5,000 people each year who are selected as a representative sample of the U.S. population.
In that analysis, the adjusted death rate was 42 percent higher for blacks than for whites.
In an editorial that accompanied the study in Circulation, Drs. Nakela Cook and George Mensah of the National Institutes of Health said the results raise important questions about health disparities in the U.S. They also cautioned that though there may be biological differences between blacks and whites, other factors could be at work as well.
For instance, they wrote, blacks in the VA system might have better underlying health than blacks in the general population — a gap that may be less pronounced for whites. Exercise, diet and other factors not considered in the study could also play a role.
And though the VA offers open-access health care to all veterans who qualify, there may be racial differences in how treatment is provided.
April 5, 2016
Racial bias has always been a serious threat to the health of minority populations. Police brutality and the Flint Water Crisis exemplify how institutional racism becomes a matter of life and death as well as a danger to people of color's overall wellbeing.
Now, a recent study from the University of Virginia shows these racial biases may follow black people right into the doctor's office.
According to the university's press release, Kelly Hoffman, a psychology Ph.D. candidate, asked 222 white medical students and residents to evaluate two mock cases and treat two fictional patients — one white, one black — for each. Hoffman had the study's participants prescribe pain treatments based on how much pain they believed the patients experienced, and they ended up revealing a major prejudice.
When Hoffman asked whether the UVA med students believed racist myths such as that black people age slower than whites (this part is true): that their nerve endings are less sensitive than white and that their skin is thicker than white people's, half of them said yes to at least one of the myths. What's more, she found that the same people who endorsed these biological myths were more likely to report lower pain ratings for their black patient and therefore provide less accurate treatment for those patients.
Hoffman said the most surprising part of the study's results is how deeply ingrained these racist beliefs are, even in those who don't otherwise hold racist views.
"What's so striking is that, today, these beliefs are not necessarily related to individual prejudice," said Hoffman. "Many people who reject stereotyping and prejudice nonetheless believe in these biological differences. And these beliefs could be really harmful; this study suggests that they could be contributing to racial disparities."
Myth or Reality
Of course sometimes a myth is not really a myth, it is the truth: such as the words of Madeline Kahn speaking to Cleavan Little in Blazing Saddles:
"Is it true what they say about the way you people are gifted?
Zzzzzzzip! Oh it's Twue.... it's twue.... it's twue!"
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