Women’s Health Week

Obesity, dental disease, HIV/AIDS epidemic are major health issues for African American women


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As National Women’s Health Week (May 11-17) kicked off, a lack of healthcare insurance, inaccessibility to proper information, and other socioeconomic barriers continue to take a toll on the overall health of black women, according to medical experts and professionals who participated in the National Black Women’s Health Conference
held last week.

The three-day event at The Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta was organized by Atlanta-based Black Health magazine. Sessions focused on health, beauty and lifestyle matters and major health issues among African American women, namely obesity, dental disease, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and breast cancer. The  conference also served to bring about awareness to National Women’s Health Week.

“Traditionally, African American women have been the ones to hold the family together and have always been the ones to take care of others, as a consequence her own health fails,” says Marcus D. Oaks, executive director of the conference and publisher of Black Health magazine. “We thought it would be helpful to give African American women the opportunity to have a conference” where they could be proactive and communicate with others, he says.

A major issue of concern as it relates to African Women and their health is obesity. The problem is “getting continuously worse for African Americans and Mexican Americans,” says cardiologist Lynne V. Perry-Bottinger, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and assistant professor of medicine at Cornell University. She adds that that 80% of African American women are overweight,
while 50% are obese.

There is a direct correlation between obesity and heart disease, Perry-Bottinger says, noting that 42% of the deaths among black women are due to heart disease. As a result of the dangers associated with obesity, Perry-Bottinger foresees increased scrutiny in the insurance industry about whether to offer or continue coverage. “It’s going to be expensive to offer them health insurance because they are [considered] too risky,” she says. Health insurance premiums are based on an individual’s health history, among other aspects.

Obesity doesn’t have to be death sentence. It is the second most preventable cause of death after smoking, Perry-Bottinger says. Sleep deprivation, a diet high in foods with saturated fat, and a lack of universal healthcare are all contributing factors. Preventive methods include regular doctor visits, daily exercise, knowing body-mass-index or ratio of weight to height, obtaining a cholesterol profile, monitoring blood pressure, eating three square meals daily, and getting proper rest.

“You really have to work at being healthy. Do the things you need to do to be healthy as the first things you do each day,” advises Dr. Jewel L. Crawford, an instructor of community health at Morehouse School of Medicine. During her conference session on HIV/AIDS, Crawford decided to put statistical data aside and get “right down to the real nitty-gritty.” She asked attendees to cite reasons contributing  to the spread of this virus among African American women, who in 2005 accounted

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