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When the Laughing Stops - The State of Black Men's Health

keesto | 6/6/2013, 2:39 p.m.
BY Eric Griggs M.D. Often times when I find myself in barber shops, restaurants, sporting...
When the Laughing Stops - The State of Black Men’s Health

BY Eric Griggs M.D.

Often times when I find myself in barber shops, restaurants, sporting events, or just walking the streets, I engage in the banter taking place and enjoy the laughter that fills the room. Whether the conversation is about a game, a relationship, a comical event that happened to someone's "friend" or family member, the mood is always light and jovial. Smiles abound, and it usually stays this way until someone brings up the topic of Health. At this point, the room usually goes silent, and everyone usually turns to me, hanging on my every word, waiting for a joke or a smile. It's all fun and games until I say "When was the last time you saw your doctor?" First come silence, then stutters and stammers. It's like pouring cold water on a campfire. I am the consummate buzz kill to their once fun conversation.

In honor of the Annual Convention for the 100 Black Men of America in New Orleans this week, I can think of no better time to address a silent tragedy taking place in our community right under our noses. The sad reality is there is no one to blame but ourselves. Here are the facts:

"Black Male Health Statistics:

  • Black men live 7.1 years less than other racial groups
  • They have higher death rates than women for all leading causes of death
  • They experience disproportionately higher death rates in all the leading causes of death
  • 40% of Black men die prematurely from cardiovascular disease as compared to 21% of White men
  • Black men have a higher incidence and a higher rate of death from oral cancer
  • Black men are 5 times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS

Other Health Statistics:

  • 44% of Black men are considered overweight
  • 24% are obese
  • Black men suffer more preventable oral diseases that are treatable
  • Black men have a higher incidence of diabetes and prostate cancer
  • They have a high suicide rate. It is the 3rd leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds"

(http://menshealth.about.com/od/blackhealth/a/Af_amer_stats.htm?r=et:From Jerry Kennard, former About.com Guide

Updated November 09, 2006)

So, there's the bad news. Its objective and plain as day, as Black men, we are not taking care of ourselves the way we should and worse, we are afraid to admit that we are afraid. The most common reasons encountered for avoiding routine checkups, screenings and physicals are " Doc, I don't want to hear any bad news...Man, I don't want that finger...There's nothing wrong with me...You know where they put that tube, right?..." and the list goes on. The reality is that all of these reasons amount to nothing more than mere excuses to hasten the inevitable - an early death. Morbid, isn't it? Sad but true. As much as we enjoy making light of this serious situation, we are killing ourselves with laughter. Well now the joke is over. It's now time to examine the steps to change the trend so we can live longer, happier, healthier and productive lives.

The first step is to understand that we are not alone. Men, in general, do not go to the doctor. "A recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians reveals that 55 percent of U.S. men haven't seen their M.D. in the past year. 'They'll ignore blood in their urine and watch testicular tumors grow to the size of grapefruits because they're afraid to come in,' says urologist Sheldon Marks, M.D., Author of Prostate and Cancer: A Family Guide to Diagnosis, Treatment, and Survival." (http://www.menshealth.com/health/5-reasons-you-dont-see-doctor-should#) Once we accept the fact that we don't go to the doctor as we should, we can then take the steps to correct it. We must realize that the decision to properly take care of ourselves is not just about us- it's about our families. Our ability to provide for our families and be productive is directly linked to our physical/mental well-being. For this reason, many companies and insurance plans provide for "wellness policies." Take advantage.