A day-long conference on health in black communities last week highlighted racial disparities in health, but speakers identified socioeconomic, cultural, and geographic factors as more important determinants than race.
The conference, entitled "Taking Good Care: A History of Health and Wellness in the Black Community," was part of Rutgers University's annual Marion Thompson Wright lecture series. Keynote speaker and former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders hinted at the point when she said, "Today, we could all do more for our own health than all the medical discoveries in the past 100 years."
Researchers who presented at the conference indicated that the health outcomes they observed in poor neighborhoods – often food deserts – emerged regardless of race. Rather, factors like education, access to public transportation, and clean air determined the likelihood of serious medical problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Elders also pointed to cultural habits as a culprit: "If you don't hurt and you don't bleed, in the black culture you aren't sick." That attitude prevents diagnoses for many asymptomatic conditions, such as high blood pressure, which in turn "kill us because we don't get a check-up."