Compared to other races, African Americans tend to do much worse on average when it comes to our health.
According to the Physicians For A National Health Program, who referenced the Center for Disease Control, “death rates for black Americans surpass those of Americans overall for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and HIV.”
When looking at kidney disease, our numbers still outweigh those of Caucasians. There are approximately “4.9 million African Americans over 20 years of age living with either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes,” a leading cause of kidney failure within the African American community according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Though, African Americans constitute more than 35% of all patients in the U.S. receiving dialysis for kidney failure, they only represent 13.2% of the overall U.S. population and are three times more likely than whites to have the disease.
But why is this the case?
There are many reasons that African-Americans may be more prone to kidney disease. Diabetes, with type 1 being the most common, and heart disease are the two most common causes of kidney disease in all races -- and African-Americans have higher rates of those diseases. The National Kidney Foundation states that, “High blood pressure is the second leading cause of kidney failure among African Americans, and remains the leading cause of death due to its link with heart attacks and strokes.”
Besides genetics, there are other socioeconomic factors such as poverty, lack of financial resources, limited access to health care, delayed treatment, cultural beliefs, low literacy and health literacy rates, and certain environmental factors.
For people living with the disease or suffering the early stages of kidney damage in Baltimore, nephrologist and epidemiologist Dr. Deidra Crews is conducting a study called 5+ Nuts & Beans for Kidneys, which examines whether improving eating habits can also help reverse the effects of those health conditions.
Crews, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study, is specifically trying to see if eating meals high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans will reduce kidney damage in African Americans with hypertension and chronic kidney disease.
Diagnosing people early to combat the illness within the African American population is a goal that the National Kidney Foundation began addressing several years ago, when it created and launched a web portal to educate the community about the risks of kidney disease.
“We are trying to catch people before they get to kidney failure, before they need a transplant or dialysis,” said Jessica Quintilian, an executive associate director at the National Kidney Foundation Serving Maryland and Delaware.
The NAACP also has efforts underway to raise awareness about the disease. Working with Baxter International it creates a campaign, the NAACP will have a series of town hall events that focus on access to care for chronic kidney disease and treatment options. Experts will also speak about the excessive impact that kidney disease has on blacks and other minorities.
Further, the NAACP campaign looks at ways to make dialysis more bearable and less disruptive for patients. The organization is aligning with the Alliance for Home Dialysis, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., to help more African-Americans get treatment in their homes. This will give people more flexibility when getting dialysis and eliminate the need to drive to a center.
“Given the high rates of African Americans and people of color living with kidney disease, it is important that they have the information needed to manage their illness effectively and access the best treatment modalities available, including home-based therapies,” Marjorie Innocent, senior director of health programs at NAACP, said in a press release.
“At the same time, there needs to be more targeted efforts in communities nationwide to inform people about how to prevent kidney disease and live healthier lives. We must focus on disease management while not putting aside basic prevention,” Innocent added.