- Faith & Family
Medical experts predict an improvement in the state of health in Florida over the next year., citing a decrease in binge drinking, lower levels of air pollution and a record-high number of children receiving life-saving immunizations [94.7 percent]. In fact, in a report just released by the United Health Foundation entitled, “America’s Health Rankings 2011,” Florida bucked the national trend and actually advanced in the rankings from 36th last year to 33rd in 2011 in overall health.
That’s the good news. The bad news is more Floridians are living without health insurance, while Blacks are disproportionately impacted by diabetes and asthma.
“2010 was the first year we dropped in the overall health in the U.S.,” said Dr. Jeffrey Martorana, director, United Healthcare of South Florida. “We are making reverse headway — Florida is one of the healthiest states in the U.S.”
However, Martorana admits that recent data indicates that Florida’s Blacks are not only living shorter lives but also face more serious health problems than any other ethnic group.
“What we find is that we have this disparity in Blacks when it comes to diabetes and asthma,” he said. “Diabetes is consistently higher in Blacks than whites. They are three-to-five times more likely to suffer from these diseases than whites and Hispanics. Life expectancy is four years less for Black men and women than any other race. And obesity in Blacks is nine percent higher than the national average.”
Data related to Blacks ‘not surprising’
Dr. George A. Simpson, M.D., 86, a long-time surgeon, doctor of family medicine and lecturer on community health, says there are many reasons why Blacks face more serious health problems in Florida than other ethnic groups.
“The statistics are probably correct although we often see inaccuracies in the compilation of the data itself,” he said. “Still, it is important to note that health is more than simply the absence of disease. Many conditions impinge on the health of a community — political, social, spiritual factors are key — and of course economics has a major impact. Take finances for example. If you live in an area where there is poor sanitation, higher levels of toxins and industrial waste or you are simply unable to buy the medicines that a doctor prescribes, your health will suffer. Additionally, in the Black community we see cultural aspects that sometimes negatively effect the health of individuals including religious habits and generations-old superstitions.”
Are there strategies or policies that might improve the overall health of Blacks? Simpson points to the disparity in economics as being the major reason why Blacks still have higher incidents of diseases like asthma and diabetes and lower life expectancies than other races.
“Economics impact our health and the ability of Blacks to live healthier lives,” he added. “It is troubling to admit but healthcare in the U.S is not a right — it is a privilege and one that is more often determined by one’s economic status.”
Changes in lifestyle can improve health
Dr. Fatima Zafar, vice-president, specialized care for Liberty City-based Jessie Trice Community Health Center, Inc., has been a physician for 44 years. She previously served as the Center’s chief medical officer and says the challenge for Blacks is to make changes in their lifestyle — changes that many cannot financially afford to make.
“I concur with the report’s diagnosis: Blacks in Florida suffer to a higher percentage from diabetes, asthma and obesity,” she said. “Why? Socio-economics, lack of health education and chronic unemployment. When you work a minimum-wage job and are working long hours, there is little time to plan your diet or even to take the time to prepare a healthy meal. That means people are eating a lot of fast foods, a lot of fried foods or using microwaves instead of ovens to prepare their meals. It tends to be a vicious cycle. What’s more, things look like they are going to get worse [economically]. That means more Blacks will suffer from diseases that are preventable or easily treated with proper and routine healthcare.
The report also indicated that the South continues to lag behind in terms of the overall health of its citizens. Among all states in the U.S., Florida ranked 33rd; Georgia, 37th; South Carolina, 45th; Alabama, 46th; Louisiana, 49th; and Mississippi, 50th. Vermont is the healthiest state in America.
By D. Kevin McNeir