Last month, Philadelphia’s Department of Health released, “Brotherly Love: Health of Black Men and Boys in Philadelphia,” an in-depth analysis on the health of black males in our city. As a cardiothoracic surgeon and an advocate with the American Heart Association, I am struck by this data.
Among the report’s findings, in 2016, black male Philadelphians lost more than 9,000 years of life prematurely due to heart disease. Among black males, 40 percent are affected by hypertension; and related illnesses like kidney disease, heart attacks, and strokes impact black men earlier in life than any other racial or ethnic group in Philadelphia.
These disparities extend to black women, as well. National statistics have shown that cardiovascular disease kills over 50,000 black women annually. Among black women ages 20 and older, half suffer from heart disease, and only about half of black women nationally are aware of the signs and symptoms of heart attack. The need to greatly increase awareness in the black community is one reason it is important to acknowledge April as Minority Health Month.
The city of Philadelphia needed to take a proactive approach to improve minority health outcomes, specifically the consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks. New research has shown that people who drink two or more sugary beverages a day have a 31 percent higher risk of earlier death from cardiovascular disease. In less than three years, we have seen significant improvements in consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks. Among kids who drink a lot of soda, consumption of added sugars is down 22 percent since the city’s beverage tax was implemented. According to a Mathematica study, among African-American adults, the tax reduced the frequency of regular soda consumption by 14.6 times per month — the equivalent of nearly one fewer 20-ounce soda every other day per person.
Philadelphia’s proactive approach to improve health outcomes can also be found in Rebuild, a multi-million-dollar investment, funded by the beverage tax, to renovate parks and recreation centers in neighborhoods of the most need like the 102-year old Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center located in Strawberry Mansion that serves more than 150 children per week. With research continuing to show that physical activity leads to less chance of heart disease, the importance of access to high-quality parks and recreation centers cannot be understated.
The recognition of Minority Health Month and the proactive approach taken by the city to greatly improve minority health outcomes is important as we look to increase awareness in the black and Latino communities. As we recognize the progress made over the past three years, we will not forget the work still needed in our city.