OnCentral | Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Black History Month shines light on health disparities in black, minority populations

African Americans throughout the U.S. face higher rates of cancer and HIV than other demographics.
African Americans throughout the U.S. face higher rates of cancer and HIV than other demographics.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

Black History Month is intended to honor notable people and events in African American history. But the February commemoration is also a time to acknowledge the inequalities that still apply.

Health officials say that although there have been dramatic improvements in the overall health of residents in the U.S., many minority populations are still struggling because of disparities in healthcare, education and poverty.

"The health disparities between African Americans and other racial groups are striking and are apparent in life expectancy, death rates, infant mortality, and other measures of health status," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

According to data from 2009, the average white American had a life expectancy of 78.8 years, compared to the average black American who lived 74.5 years. This more than four-year difference can be attributed to an array of issues, many of which may stem from or are exacerbated by the fact that African Americans -- as well as Latinos -- between the ages of 18 to 64, have "substantially larger percentages of uninsured populations" compared to Asians and whites, according to the CDC. 

Not getting proper nutritional guidance or regular medical care can not only lead to deteriorated health, but may leave diseases like cancer or HIV undiscovered for extended periods of time.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a recent study from the American Cancer Society concludes that more than 1.66 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2013. This research also shows that black individuals are more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group. The cancer death rate for black men is 33 percent higher than it is for their white counterparts; for black women, the rate is 16 percent higher than for white women.

African Americans are also disproportionately affected by HIV.

Although they make up only 14 percent of the country-wide population, black individuals accounted for 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2010. The CDC attributes the discrepancy to a numer of factors - including poverty, racial discrimination, and a general reluctance to get tested.

South Central has the highest rate of HIV infection in the county, so area health clinics are trying to de-stigmatize HIV testing.

Felix Aguilar, the chief medical officer at South Central Family Health Center told OnCentral last year that his clinic is incorporating the HIV test into the standard list of STD testing. Clinic staffers are also telling clients that HIV isn't associated with a specific kind of person or behavior -- "the risks are a lot more general than that," he said. 

Los Angeles officially kicks off Black History Month on Friday with an Opening Ceremony at City Hall led by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. At the event, Villaraigosa is expected to honor recording artist LL Cool J, actor Danny Glover; and producer/writer LeVar Burton.