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'Black to the Future': Health in Charlotte

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For 2012, Qcitymetro is celebrating Black History Month by looking forward, not backwards, via a four-part series titled “Black to the Future.”

Each week in February, some of the city’s best and brightest minds will share their visions for Charlotte’s African American community 10 years from now. The goal of the series — which focuses on business, education, health and culture — is not just to look at what direction our current trajectory is taking us … but where it SHOULD be taking us.

This week, we focuses on health.

When taking a snapshot of black Charlotte’s health, it becomes evident that African Americans aren’t feeling that great.

Consider these facts pulled from the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s 2011 State of the County Health Report:

• Of the 312 cases of HIV reported in 2010, 236 (76 percent) involved blacks.

• Black death rates from heart disease were 1.5 times higher than for whites; black death rates for stroke were 1.7 times higher than for whites; and black death rates for diabetes were 3 times higher than for whites.

• In 2010, African Americans accounted for a majority (64 percent) of US-born Tuberculosis cases.

• Minority populations reported higher rates of smoking and obesity and lower rates of physical activity as compared to whites.

So, where do local health leaders want Charlotte’s African American community to be in 10 years? We checked in with four local notables, and here’s what they said:

Dr. Yele Aluko, cardiologist and  physician executive

Dr. Yele Aluko, cardiologist/partner at Mid Carolina Cardiology and physician executive at Novant Health: Like most cities in the United States, health care for minorities in Charlotte is steeped in a history of inequities of access, representation and clinical outcomes. Due to a variety of reasons, be it socioeconomic, perceived lack of cultural competency and empathy from health care providers and hospital systems or poor health care coverage, minorities in general and African Americans in particular have inequitable access to health care. In the health care workforce, there remains a gross under-representation of minorities in clinical medicine, administrative medicine, nursing and allied health professions.

Furthermore, fundamental to the severity of the inequities in clinical outcomes is the ongoing observation that the life expectancy for African Americans remains dismally low when compared to Caucasian Americans. African Americans suffer more death and disability from multiple clinical variables compared to Caucasians, be it heart disease, cancer, HIV/ AIDS, diabetes, or infant mortality, among several others.

My vision for Charlotte is health care equity in access, representation and clinical outcomes. This will require an objective plan derived between our health care systems and elected leadership to ensure that these inequities of access, representation and outcomes are eliminated over time.

Beverly Irby, CEO of the CW Williams Community Health Center: African Americans and people of color continue to suffer and die from preventable diseases at a higher rate than whites. Factors such as unemployment, homelessness and lack of access to health care contribute to this problem. Currently, millions of people are uninsured or underinsured and forego health care in order to provide for the basic necessities.

In the next decade, we should work toward providing quality health care to all people, regardless of race or ethnicity. This means working together as a community to increase jobs, affordable housing and educational opportunities so that all people can have access to basic health care. We also must improved diversity in the health care workforce. In the next 10 years, my hope is that the gaps in the rates of illness and death in African Americans should be reduced to reflect that of non-Hispanic whites living in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Bradford Picot, DDS, PA, dentist

Bradford Picot, DDS, PA, dentist-owner of SouthEnd Dentistry: In 10 years, I’d like to see the Charlotte African American community take more control of their health through access, education and prevention. I would like to see increased access to clinicians and resources educating the community on being proactive about its health and facilitating healthy lifestyles. It is also important for African-Americans to view their providers as a team working together in a holistic approach to their health. For instance, there is a tremendous oral-systemic relationship where many diseases of the oral cavity can affect the rest of the body, and vice versa. I am optimistic about the Charlotte African American community continuing to move onward and upward in healthy living.

Sondra EZ Hines, adjunct professor of health & wellness, and Qcitymetro health columnist: I'd like to see black people place exercise at the top of their to-do lists. Obesity rates in this country are disastrous! Study after study concludes that exercise is an elixir to maintaining longevity and can ward off an array of health-related problems. Exercise yields tremendous benefits. Yet, many Americans continue to skip this important health component, waiting until problems arise before taking action, versus acting proactively.

I'd like to see more free exercise classes for those unable to afford gym memberships and fitness events that include children, many who are also overweight. Many churches and park and recreation centers offer free and/or low cost fitness activities, which includes children. For example, Tuesday nights (at 6 p.m.), Friendship Missionary Baptist Church holds aerobics classes that are open to the public. The cost is only $3 per person. Other free options: Malls can be utilized to promote health and wellness; walking inside is a safe and great opportunity to burn calories, especially with cooler temperatures; or utilize parks in the Charlotte area.

Sadly, I don't see enough people of color regularly engaging in exercise. I'd like to see this trend change in the next few years. Our health depends on it!

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October 7, 2015
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