ALAMEDA COUNTY: African Americans in Worse Health than Whites, Latinos, Asians
While Latinas and Asian women and their children generally are as healthy as white women and their children, African-American women and children suffer much higher death and illness rates" according to a new report on the health of Alameda County residents by the county Public Health Department. Black women in their reproductive years are twice as likely to die as white women, while Latinas and Asians in the same age group actually have lower mortality rates than white women. Further, black children are twice as likely to die as infants than whites, whereas Latino and Asian children have about the same infant mortality rate as white children. African-American women also are "dying in significant numbers from preventable causes," including AIDS and diseases related to smoking, diet and substance abuse. In 1997, 60% of female Alameda County AIDS cases were black women, who represented 17% of total females in the county. In 1992, testing of pregnant women showed 23% of blacks tested positive for tobacco use, while 14.5% tested positive for alcohol use. Twelve percent of whites, 6% of Latinas and less than 1% of Asian women tested positive for tobacco use, while 10% percent of Latinas, 6% of whites and 3.5% of Asian women tested positive for alcohol use.
Explaining the Difference
The study suggests that "race, personal habits and social causes all play a complex role in health." Mildred Thompson, a PolicyLink fellow and former county health official, said that "blacks living in poverty might be suffering from greater stress and social problems than immigrants, who traditionally come to the United States in relatively good health." She added: "If there are long histories of poor nutrition and family structures being torn apart, then poverty could have more of an impact on health. New immigrants see new prosperity and live in larger families, whereas in many African-American communities there is a sense of hopelessness." The report sparked Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson to call a town hall meeting Wednesday in Berkeley. "What strikes me is the great difference among ethnic groups even though they live in the same neighborhoods and the same environments," he said (Holbrook, Contra Costa Times, 4/16).