Cause of Black, White Life Expectancy Gap Examined
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined contributing factors -- including the "chief culprit," cardiovascular disease -- to the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the life expectancy gap between blacks and whites in 2003 reached an historic low of 5.3 years, down from 7.1 years in 1993. Besides heart disease, HIV/AIDS and homicide are the main contributors to the gap. According to CDC, blacks' death rate from cardiovascular disease is about 30% higher than it is for whites. Forty-one percent of blacks have hypertension, compared with 27% of whites. Hypertension is the leading risk for cardiovascular disease in blacks. While some experts speculate that the cause of hypertension among blacks is genetic, that idea has been countered by findings that blacks in African nations have a low risk of hypertension. The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a 10-year study that began in 2000 by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, aims to determine the causes of racial health disparities. Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal and lead author of the JAMA study, said, "What our study shows is that we can do a better job. We already know a lot about how to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. If we can do a better job focusing on how to treat heart disease in minority communities, we can continue to close the gap" (Brink, Los Angels Times, 3/26).
The latest findings that cardiovascular disease is the leading contributor to the lower life expectancy of blacks also is "reflected in Maryland," according to a Baltimore Sun editorial. For instance, the Maryland Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities reports that from 2001 to 2005, life expectancy increased from 72.2 to 74.3 for blacks and from 78 to 79.1 for whites. Similar to factors behind the disparity nationwide, heart disease, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS and homicides are the main factors in shorter life spans among blacks in Maryland. The Sun calls for passage of a state cigarette tax bill that would provide funding for preventive care and management of chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension, and increase outreach efforts in churches and the community. "Expanding such comprehensive, targeted programs to cover more diseases could help prolong more lives," the editorial concludes (Baltimore Sun, 3/26).