Dr. Nelson: Empowerment Through Knowledge Is Key!

January 12, 2010

By Dr. Randi Nelson

Knowledge is power and yes that may be a well worn cliché but it can not be more applicable and important as it now especially regarding healthcare. Today patients must be there own advocates. Yes doctors and other healthcare professionals dedicate themselves to better the lives of their patients. However, it is always in the patients’ best interest to understand the health and disease process, in order for them to make informed and beneficial decisions regarding their health. In addition this will allow patients and their doctors, work together as partners.

I am Randi B. Nelson MD and four years ago, I gave up a successful 14 year career in investment banking as an accountant to become a physician in particular a pediatrician. After the death of my father, who suffered from many health ailments and September 11th, the desire to dedicate my life’s work to something more meaningful lead me back to my childhood aspiration to become a doctor. In addition to treating children and their families, my other desire is to educate and empower.

Today many illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and HIV/AID are wreaking havoc on the African American population and my wish is to dispense medical information so that as a community we can attempt to reverse the dangerous health care trends that are slowly killing our community.

According to government agencies such as the CDC, US Department of Health and Human Services and the Kaiser Family Foundation, African American and Hispanics endure an unequal burden of disease, injury, death, and disability. As recently as 2005, the death rate for African Americans was higher than Whites for heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.  Lets’ take a look at some the numbers (Source: US Department of health and human services: Office of Minority health):

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Insurance Coverage:  In 2007, 18- 20 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of the Hispanic population in comparison to 10.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured.

Cancer:  In 2005, African American men were 1.3 times as likely to have new cases of lung and prostate cancer and 2.4 times as likely to die from prostate cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white men.  In 2005, African American women were 10% less likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they were 34% more likely to die from breast cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Diabetes:  In 2005, African Americans and Hispanics were 2.2 times and 1.6 times (respectively) as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to die from diabetes.

Heart Disease: In 2005, African American men were 30% more likely to die from heart disease, as compared to non-Hispanic white men. African Americans are 1.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have high blood pressure. African American and Mexican women are 1.7 and 1.3 (respectively) times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to be obese.

HIV/AIDS: Although African Americans make up only 13% of the total U.S. population, they accounted for 49% of HIV/AIDS cases in 2007 and Hispanics accounted for 17% of HIV/AIDS cases in 2007. African American men were more than 9 times as likely to die from HIV/AIDS as non-Hispanic white men. African American women were more than 20 times as likely to die from HIV/AIDS as non-Hispanic white women, in 2005.

Stroke: African American adults are 1.7 times more likely than their White adult counterparts to have a stroke. African American males are 60% more likely to die from a stroke than their White adult counterparts.

Obesity: Approximately 65 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. And let’s not forget about the children as they are getting heavier as well. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development the percentage of children and teens that are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Today, about 17 percent of American children ages 2-19 are overweight.  As a result of obesity, adults suffer increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions. Children are not insulted from increased risk as well. Type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in children, now accounts for 8 to 45 percent of newly diagnosed diabetes cases in American children and teens. Unfortunately, overweight children will mostly likely become overweight adults.

Just for a moment lets forget about statistics, it is easy to get caught up in the numbers….lets just look at our own families and seek the anecdotal evidence that proves these statistics. We don’t have to look far to see how these diseases are affecting our loved ones.

So I hope you join me in the upcoming months on this journey to better health. Remember empowerment is key!



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