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Black Men’s Health Matters, Right?

By on June 18, 2013

There’s a disturbing un-American trend that affects us all. It has nothing to do with the IRS or corporate whistle blowing, and it dates back to slavery. I’m referring to the state of black men’s health in our country. African American male health disparities are so endemic to American society that the pervasiveness of disparities rarely makes prime-time news. Why?

As our diverse nation slowly adopts the integration of the Affordable Care Act; African American men have the most to potentially gain from increased health insurance access as they have had the lowest life expectancy and highest death rate compared to American men in other racial groups since measurement began. The overall death rate for African American men today is about 1.3, 1.8, 1.7 and 2.4 times that of White, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander men respectively per the Kaiser Foundation. So what? Why does it matter to anyone other than African Americans?

The 17.3 million African American men in the United States represent 48% of all African Americans in the U.S. The healthier our nation’s residents the more productive and the more productive, the more competitive we are as a nation in commerce and battle. The data is clear but the solutions are complex, well, sort of.

Imagine a national health emergency where white women were succumbing to preventable diseases at the rate of black males. Would our national response be the same as it is for African American males?  

healthIf it’s unacceptable or even un-American to leave a soldier behind on foreign soil, why is it business as usual to let so many African American men (and women and children) live with such an abysmal health status for so long in our nation of wealth?  History offers a ‘cause and effect’ lesson when it comes to poor health conditions, poverty, and the national economy. When citizens are unhealthy, they are unproductive, creating a negative ripple in our collective readiness and productivity. We’ve been living through decades of grim health indicators for black males and its negative impact on everything from high consumption of public health services to even higher mortality rates. Individual health is directly tied to the health of our economy.

Opportunities to Reduce Black Male Health Disparities, include:

  • Increasing health literacy levels across all ages for black males and their families 
  • Implementing national standards of accountability for preventing sexual assault in prisons and jails
  • Implementing meaningful quality assurance measures for medical care in poor, urban, and rural areas
  • Realigning public policy on illegal drugs, homelessness, and mental health toward public health goals

 Obviously there is no ‘magic bullet’ to overcome a century of disparities, but it requires intentionality and sustained effort. We have to decide that black males are not expendable and invest accordingly. Protecting the health of one vulnerable group of citizens is of value for all. We have to give a damn in order to reduce disparities and increase overall population health.


Walker Tisdale III, MPH, MA is the Editor of Healthyblackmen.org. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.  

Some data for this article came from the sources below:

  1. National Vital Statistics System. WISQARS program, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
  2. National Healthcare Disparities Report, 2006. AHRQ.


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