Health challenges in the black community - what can be done?

Health challenges in the black community - what can be done?

How can we navigate the health challenges faced by large parts of the black community?


The state of health in the black community has long been shown to be a real issue of concern - and a multi-layered issue as well. Factors such as food insecurity, education, and genetics leave black people pre-disposed to higher rates of many of the leading chronic diseases that we see. What are the extent of these issues and how can we combat them?

Chronic disease statistics

First off, let me paint a picture of some statistics which highlight how chronic disease disproportionately affects black people:

These make for unfortunate reading for all of us. We have to ask questions of ourselves, both individually and from a public standpoint, as to how these statistics read the way they do. As I previously mentioned - there are multiple reasons and it is a very layered issue.

Black people suffer from far higher rates of chronic disease than other races - it’s important to understand why
Black people suffer from far higher rates of chronic disease than other races - it’s important to understand why

Diet and lifestyle

It’s widely known - and even more so now - that diet and lifestyle can have a positive and powerful impact on our health and longevity, Considering these statistics that I outlined above, this is even more important. A 2018 study in the British Medical Journal (5) outlined the impact of an increase in foods such as fruits, vegetables, coffee, and wholegrains in helping to reduce chronic disease incidence. What’s more, the power of a plant-based diet has been shown to reduce the cardiovascular risk in African Americans in a study done by the American Heart Association (6) - definitely worth a read.

In black communities, the health issue is two-fold. In a lot of cases, particularly in the United States, a lot of low-income areas are populated by black communities, and with this comes limited access to healthy food - something we will come to later.

Furthermore, in black culture there is a big attraction towards diets that contain a lot of meat, oil, dairy products and fat - with not as much consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole foods. Lots of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, beef, lamb - you get the picture. It’s often hard to let go of these foods, and in some cases it can be seen as moving away from your culture if you do.

Other lifestyle factors such as a lack of exercise and movement contribute to this as well; the previous statistic I mentioned concerning black people and obesity is proof of this.

It’s clear that diet and lifestyle is an issue that could be rectified within black communities, and one that needs more individual responsibility and education.


Socio-economic issues and food poverty

This is a complex issue and one that directly impacts the health of black communities - in a big way. Food poverty - meaning the lack of access or inability to afford a healthy, nutritious diet - affects people of black, Asian and minority ethnicities disproportionately (7).

This is a worry for black people, as a lack of quality food access has a direct impact on health and chronic disease. Often in these areas, nutritious food is out of the price range of low-income ethnic families, meaning that they are forced to rely on nutrient-poor food in order to avoid going hungry.

Food deserts have particular relevance in low-income black communities. These areas have very few large supermarkets, but far more convenience stores and junk food offerings - meaning that even if individuals there wanted to eat healthier, they would struggle to do so. This is an issue tied to systemic racism, and is particularly prevalent in the United States. We’ll touch on that more in the next section.

Racial bias

Racism plays a huge and controversial part when looking at health implications of black people.

Let’s look at it from a food perspective. As mentioned in the previous section, far more black low-income neighbourhoods are victim to a lack of healthy eating options and food insecurity, demonstrated in this study (8) by Kelly Bower. It stated that there is a clear correlation with poor black neighbourhoods having the most limited access to quality foods.

This in turn increases chronic disease states, due to the foods most effective in prevention of disease simply not being available.

Racial bias in healthcare is a driving factor for negative health outcomes in the black community
Racial bias in healthcare is a driving factor for negative health outcomes in the black community

Racial biases in healthcare hugely affect black people - particularly women. Take a look at these statistics from this article (9):

  • Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications
  • 40% more likely to die from breast cancer than caucasian women
  • Less likely to receive painkilling medication from doctors, even when experiencing the same level of pain as a white patient

In fact, this study (10) even showed how black people are systemically under-treated for pain - ‘black people’s skin being thicker than white people’ among many mistruths and misconceptions held by caucasian doctors. These are pressing issues that need to urgently be addressed: an issue which I have even seen close to home with those close to me reporting such issues.

What can be done about these issues?

The trouble is, there is no hard and fast solution for these problems.

When we think of socio-economic issues and food access, these are issues that are in the hands of policy makers - although as individuals we have to do whatever we can to try and move the needle; be it signing petitions, writing to local members of parliament and representatives of political parties, and things of that nature. We have to make noise to ensure that those in low-income areas are considered when it comes to basic human rights such as access to healthy food.

Diet and lifestyle education has to become a priority in black culture. If we are made aware that we have higher rates of chronic diseases that are strongly linked to diet and lifestyle factors, we are able to make change wherever possible.

Once we know better, we can do better.

We need to continue to be vocal about racial biases in the healthcare system, as this problem is far-reaching. Non-black healthcare professionals must take responsibility and educate themselves on racial bias in healthcare, and addressing their own potential biases. It is only then that progress can be made.

We must also try to self-educate ourselves as much as we can on issues concerning health; having informed, in-depth conversations with healthcare professionals and pushing back whenever bias begins to come to the fore could be a step to limiting such instances, and gaining favourable outcomes.

This is an ongoing fight to ensure that health outcomes in black people improve, and if we equip and educate ourselves on the big picture accordingly, we can take steps, be vocal and make change where necessary.


1) Black African Ethnicity and risk of Type 2 Diabetes - Diabetes UK

2) Ethnicity Facts and Figures - Gov.UK

3) Preventing chronic conditions among ethnic minorities and improving access to services - National Institute for Health and Care Excellence

4) Why 7 deadly diseases strike blacks most - WebMD

5) Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention - The British Medical Journal

6) Impact of a plant-based nutrition intervention on the 10-year ASCVD risk in African Americans - American Heart Association

7) What is food poverty? Who is most at risk? - Sustain; The Alliance for Better Food and Farming

8) The intersection of neighbourhood racial segregation, poverty and urbanicity and its impact on food store availability in the United States - National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

9) This is how the American Healthcare System is failing black women - The Oprah Magazine

10) Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America