Mortality and Race (an American Perspective)

Today’s Washington Post carried the story Wide Gaps Found In Mortality Rates Among U.S. Groups. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the original study (no I don’t work in at a university with free journal access – the lucky b*st*rds). The story starts with the scary lead

A black man living in a high-crime American city can expect to live 21 fewer years than a woman of Asian descent in the United States. The man’s life expectancy, in fact, is closer to that of people living in West Africa than it is to the average white American.

First off, I would argue that parsing the data according to race is uniquely American. Even after Katrina, race trumps income. In Germany, there is no ‘race’ question on official forms. I don’t remember one in France either (my ex was French). Of course there was one token income comparison mentioned.

Northern Plains whites have a per capita income below that of Middle America whites (about $18,000 vs. $25,000), and essentially the same percentage who are high school graduates (83 vs. 84). But they live longer — 79 years vs. 77.9 years.

Wow, I’m shocked! This of course begs the question, what is the comparison between say upper, middle and lower incomes across all races and locations? (I had hoped to find this in the original paper, I’m sure it would be in there somewhere.) I don’t remember where I saw the value, but isn’t $18,000 vs. $25,000 rather low for an average income? I recall something like $48,000 for the median and somewhat lower for average. Am I way off here? If not, the statistic shows low income white males are screwed wherever they live. Gee, imagine that.

I would agree with the researcher’s sound bite:

“I think it’s pretty fair to say we’re failing,” said Christopher J.L. Murray, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The score card on the macro level has been failure.”

For me, the best part of the article did show that the right wing talking point “black men die because they shoot each other or do drugs” does manage to get trashed.

The paper did not examine the causes of death between the groups. But the researchers note that high mortality in urban black men persists even when homicide and AIDS are removed. Heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cirrhosis and fatal injuries are the major causes of reduced life expectancy in that group.

Interestingly, the reporter seems to have forgotten this inconvenient truth when writing his lead “Black man living in high-crime American city…” Is there a connection between crime and diabetes? Inquiring eclectics want to know!

This last quote is particularly scary for another reason. Why? Well let’s hop over to another paper (pdf) from this research team. This compares BMI in 1990 and 2000. Whether BMI is an accurate measure of mortality or whether 22 is really worse then 25 is up for debate. BMI might not directly predict mortality but is an excellent relative measure. The above paper shows how rapidly America is gaining weight. Now that is scary.

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4 comments so far

  1. Teresa on

    I can think of one reason why poor people might have a higher risk of diabetes…food quality.

    Starchy, fatty foods are more accessible when you are poor. They are durable and easy for food shelves to handle. They are cheap and fit in with the poverty lifestyle of not planning anything, and just reacting to a constant string of crisis. Also, they are quick and easy to prepare when you are tired out from working your two part-time jobs (probably 30 hours a week)and from jumping through the administrative hoops to keep your food stamps.

    Cheap, durable foods tend to be high in fat, and carbohydrates, particularly starch, but also cheap-to-add ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup.

    Having spent the better part of the last three years helping my husband manage his headaches that were caused by sugar crashes, I begin to see what the blood-sugar spike/sugar crash cycle can do to your health.

    Since we modified our diet, limiting it almost exclusivly to leafy greens, meat, and whole grains (all more expensive and less practical for urban poverty conditions), we have eliminated most of our headaches, lost weight, and lowered our cholesterol.

  2. Teresa on

    That two-part-time jobs comment should actually be (probably 30 hours a week EACH).

    sorry.

  3. blc303 on

    I’ll be doing a book review about Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” soon. She has a couple of things relating to diet and health.

    I also read recently that one of the aid programs is now allowing people to get fresh vegetables using aid vouchers. It only took 25 years.

    …Rocky gets sugar crashes?! Trees keep him health, the Dot.Net Community needs him. 😉

  4. Teresa on

    Yeah, if he eats too much refined sugar, he gets terrible headaches.

    We found this out when he decided to do the South Beach Diet with me to give me moral support. The terrible headaches that he would have regularly, which we always put down to “stress” seemed to disappear.

    So we continued to modify our diet along SB lines. We’ve always eaten a lot of vegetables and such…but now we make sure our plates are about 2/3 covered in green…

    And I’ve gotten wise to all of the hidden sugar in thngs you would not expect…like hot dogs. Good grief, what could possibly be the need to add high fructose corn syrup to hot dogs?


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