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Mayors Forum Addresses African American Health Disparity Issues

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 12/13/2013, 6 a.m.
To be African American in the United States remains a struggle in an unforgiving wilderness where it seems everything is ...
The Satcher Health Leadership Institute/Morehouse School of Medicine served as host for the “Mayors Forum: A Call to Action and Sustain Healthy Communities” on Thursday, Dec. 5, in partnership with the World Conference of Mayors.

To be African American in the United States remains a struggle in an unforgiving wilderness where it seems everything is out to kill you.

Sounds like a premise for a Hollywood feature?

However, a recent meeting of leading mayors, commissioners, researchers and community health advocates reveals that these issues are all too real and troubling.

The Satcher Health Leadership Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine, in partnership with the World Conference of Mayors, held its “Mayors Forum: A Call to Action and Sustain Healthy Communities” on Thursday, December 5.

Delegates from the world over joined prominent health figures in and around Atlanta in an attempt to raise awareness on an initiative to help improve quality of health for African Americans.

“We just believe that mayors and commissioners of counties are critical to the goal,” SHLI’s founder and editor in chief, Dr. David Satcher told The Atlanta Voice. “We depend on their leadership to implement things like the Affordable Care Act on the local level. And we are working to be able to share what we know about health promotion and disease prevention.”

The metropolitan Atlanta area boasts one of the largest concentrations of African Americans with a population of nearly two million (approx. 1,707,913), accounting for more than one-third of the total city population (35.2 percent, as of 2010).

Numbers like that make Atlanta a perfect setting for this gathering of health-focused advocates. But it’s staggering numbers in health disparities that make the conference necessary.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, health disparities between African Americans and other racial and ethnic populations are alarmingly “apparent in life expectancy, death rates, infant mortality, and other measures of health status and risk conditions and behaviors.”

Furthermore, African Americans have the largest rate of HIV infection (since 2008).

What’s the conclusion?

The CDC has stated that major factors for poor health outcomes among African Americans “include discrimination, cultural barriers, and lack of access to health care.” Thus, African Americans are in uphill and violent battle to live healthier.

That is why the primary focus of the conference is to stimulate and support positive and constructive relationships between mayors and other officials to support the needs of African Americans in cities throughout the nation.

“I think Atlanta is a key city in this nation and in the world,” Dr. Satcher explained. “Look at things like obesity, the uninsured Georgia leads in many cases-- I’m disappointed that Georgia is not planning to expand Medicaid, but I do hope that if Georgia’s not going to expand Medicaid that it finds some way to insure people get access to this coverage.”

Beyond health coverage, the former U.S. Surgeon General and his colleagues stress the need for education, healthy food options, and the constant reaffirming of healthy living as keys to combating these health disparities.

Many prominent African American celebrities are already doing their part in raising health awareness, such as President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama on challenging parents to be more present in their children’s diet, Reverend Run from the renowned Run DMC with his diabetes prevention initiative, Jay Z and Beyoncé with their 22-day vegan challenge, and many others who are endorse active lifestyles.

In fact, First Lady Obama has been a consistent and outspoken advocator of early education when it comes healthy choices in eating, as she leads a White House initiative that is aimed at reducing childhood obesity.

“The fact is that marketing nutritious foods to our kids isn’t just good for our kids’ health, it can also be good for companies’ bottom lines,” said Ms. Obama.

Many African Americans live in environments where they do not have fresh fruits or vegetables, where it’s not safe to get out and be physically active in the morning, and in most cases, the right health policies are not in place for African Americans to take preemptive measures.

“I am very pleased that people of that stature are taking very seriously healthy lifestyles, because people idolize and follow them,” Dr. Satcher said. “We all should be sending a message to our children about what it means to live healthy.”

For more information, visit shli.msm.edu.