The life expectancy and overall health of Black Philadelphians continues to lag significantly behind those of every other racial group in the city, according to a recent report issued by the city’s Department of Public Health.
By virtually every health measure detailed in “Health of the City 2019” — from obesity to hypertension, incidences of cancer, mortality and childhood cancer and childhood asthma — rates are worse for Blacks in general than they are for every other racial group. Blacks are also more likely to die prematurely, which is defined as before the age of 75.
Life expectancy is lowest for African-American men (68.8 years on average) and women (77.8 years). At the other end of the spectrum, Asian women live longer than anyone else in the city (86.9 on average), and Asian men (86.9 years) are the city’s longest-living men. Hispanic women (84.9 years) live longer than white women (79.9 years). White men and Hispanic men both live on average a little more than 74 years.
The difference in health between African Americans and other races is “because of poverty, lower levels of employment, and historical discrimination and lack of opportunity,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health.
“Closing the racial gap in health will require improving African-Americans’ educations, employment, and income opportunities as well as creating environments that promote healthy behaviors — such as healthy diet, physical activity, and avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.”
This is not the first time such disparities have been revealed.
A four-year old report from the Center on Society and Health published by Virginia Commonwealth University looked at various ZIP codes in Philadelphia and found that the life expectancy in can differ by as many as 20 years between majority white and majority Black neighborhoods.
Another report issued by city health officials in March called “Brotherly Love: Health of Black Men and Boys in Philadelphia,” estimated the life expectancy of Black men to be 69.1 years. It revealed that hypertension and related illnesses — kidney disease, heart attacks and strokes — affect Black men earlier and more frequently than other groups. Hospitalizations for asthma were nearly nine times higher for Black boys than other demographic groups.
Homicide is the leading cause of death among young Black men between the ages of 15 and 34. Black men accounted for 75% of all homicide victims in 2018.
“Black men and boys have been experiencing disparate health outcomes for quite some time and in many areas we are seeing some improvements,” said Dr. Raynard Washington, the Department of Public Health’s chief epidemiologist. “In some ways, things are improving for Black men and boys, but there is still a gap between their health outcomes and others.”
The city Department of Public Health produces its “Health of the City” report to assist city officials, health-care providers, and residents to better understand the factors that influence health outcomes. The data is culled from a variety of sources, including Pennsylvania’s telephone-based population survey of behavioral risk factors.
“Overall, Philadelphia’s health lagged behind other major U.S. cities,” the report concluded. “These differences were largely driven by persisting disparities in key health outcomes and behaviors for racial/ethnic minorities and those experiencing poverty.”