CHARLENEM, Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES–Black women in Los Angeles County suffer the highest rates of serious chronic diseases and depression, including heart disease, diabetes and strokes, according to a study by the Department of Health and Office of Women’s Health.

Their first ever report titled “Health Indicators for Women in Los Angeles County: Highlighting Disparities by Ethnicity and Insurance Status,” was released May 23 and showed that, among other things, women differ greatly in disease and death rates by race and ethnicity.

Black women, it reports, had the highest overall mortality rate, including the highest mortality rate for coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and more than half are at risk for developing heart disease, compared to 38 percent of Latinas, 36 percent of White women, and 27 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander women.


Latinas were close behind, with a higher percentage of Central American women living in poverty, uninsured, and lacking a regular source of health care compared to Mexican, South American women, and women of other racial/ethnic groups.

As well, it continued, Latinas and Black women overall have notably higher rates of obesity compared to White and Asian/Pacific Islander women.

“These findings are unacceptable and as a community, we clearly need to do more to address the underlying, yet complex issues that contribute to these disparate health outcomes,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Public Health Director and County Health Officer.

The document cited poverty, gender, race/ethnicity, lack of health insurance, access to care, and environmental and lifestyle factors as reasons for the health disparities, and noted that a key contributor to poor health among many of the women is the fact that almost 50 percent are living in poverty.

“It doesn’t surprise me. I’m of the belief that the same would be true if you looked at Black men, because overall, whatever the parameters are that you are measuring, we’re not doing so well,” stated Dr. Alim Muhammad, a National Spokesman for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and founder of the Abundant Life Clinic in Washington, D.C.

He positioned that the overall health status of Blacks is declining for a lot of reasons, and cited these specifically: “Poor nutrition, in general, which leads to obesity, and obesity is a common pathway to all kinds of diseases–heart disease, hypertension, cancer, arthritis; all of the degenerative diseases,” Dr. Muhammad said. He added that the keys to solving the problem is better nutrition, more exercise and a healthier lifestyle.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes were the top four among 10 leading causes of death for Blacks in the U.S. in 2002.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General, attributes the high prevalence of chronic diseases among Black women to socio-economic and educational factors. “We are not taught early on how to take care of ourselves. We’re talking about simple minded things we could do, but have not done. Also, we don’t have access to health care, but even if we did, if we don’t have the education, we can’t do anything about it,” she said.

She believes that long term remedies are required for break through results.

First, she proposed, Blacks who know must educate others on how to take care of themselves; eat healthy; get at least six to eight hours of sleep at night; stop smoking; reduce alcoholic drinks to no more than one a day; stop engaging in unprotected sex.

Dr. Elders told The Final Call that eight simple things women can do to save their lives are: Get mammograms; get cholesterol tested every year; get a diabetes test; check their height, weight, blood pressure and Body Mass Index; get an HIV test if they feel they are at risk; check for colon cancer; get heart exams; and get a pap smear.

Tonya Samuel, MSPH, program manager at the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, believes that women should be aware of the clinical aspects of their bodies, but many just do not know what to look for.

Her education outreach includes visits to barber shops and beauty salons, highlighting diabetes and its effects on Black communities.

“We let our women know that our inner beauty is just as important, if not more important, as our outer beauty. A lot of times we as women might take care of a little bit of the cosmetic, but we have the responsibilities to families and others and we give ourselves whatever’s left,” Ms. Samuel said.

She continued that women cannot rely solely on doctors saying everything is okay by looking at blood work, but they should specifically ask for the cholesterol and other tests.

“We have to be cognizant of taking care of ourselves and how to look for certain indications. It’s about educating women to realize what physical differences we see in our bodies. We’re not paying attention to triggers, but simply put them off as being tired from doing too much, needing to lose weight, missing things, going thirsty or hungry. We attribute these to keeping up with life, but it is really something we need to take notice of,” she added.

The report drew data sources from the 2005 L.A. County Health Survey, other Los Angeles Public Health Department programs, the California Health Interview Survey, and the California Department of Education.