CHECK UP featuring Dr. DARRYL A. HILL
Socioeconomic and the Health of Young Black Men
A message to Parents, Adults and our young MEN.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking to a group of young men about the importance of good health. During my preparation for this discussion it became quite clear to me how different the health issues are for our young men. We are all aware of the issues of violence in our society that unfortunately affect African American men. But for some reason this year it became clear to me just how significant socioeconomic factors impact the lives and health of young black men. What concerns me is that these factors do not take the time to discriminate against young men of color. Meaning, irrespective of the background of the individual, to some degree he will be subject to the negative consequences of being a black male. The real question is, how severe will the consequences be. Will it be minor or life threatening, will it be a bump in the road or lead to bodily injury, incarceration or even death. Adults, especially parents need to be aware of this situation as we prepare and then allow our young men to enter this world independently. Realistically, we are doing a poor job as a group preparing our youth to manage this challenge. The first thing we need to do is have a discussion about this issue.
It was a pleasure to notice how the young men in the audience listened attentively as we discussed topics such as violence, drug abuse, choice of friends, the school to prison pipeline, sexually transmitted infections, the neighborhoods we live in, depression, suicide, relationships with our father and the single parent household. Sprinkled in here we could not avoid talking about real medical conditions such as obesity, testicular cancer, diabetes, sexual transmitted infections and HIV. On the other side of the life spectrum, although important it became clear that items such as heart disease, prostate cancer and hypertension may not be as important to our young men at this time. They first had to earn the right to be at risk to these chronic conditions by first surviving the challenges of their youth. One thing is clear, if you are looking to climb out of this unfortunate condition a good education is essential. To say that education is the key is an understatement. Given the challenges we face in our school system, it becomes essential that all of our young men find ways to succeed in school. This is because their lives depend on this. This is even more important given our current climate in this country.
As I write this article it is hard to avoid the feelings of my own mother who had to raise three young sons in the community we lived in as children. When I magnify this by the millions of mothers across this land over the years, it becomes clear why many of the challenges our communities face are so perpetual.
It is no surprise to most that violence is a major challenge to the health of young men less than thirty five. Accidents, suicide and HIV are also important factors. One can surmise that it is important to make sure that our young men are educated about this. This requires adults such as parents, mothers, fathers, mentors, coaches and our communities to have that important conversation.
Mental health continues to be looked at closely and significantly affects men of color. Studies show that African American men have some of the highest rates of depression. Factors that contribute to this include racism and unemployment. Men will need to become comfortable seeking out the assistance of mental health professionals. By doing so we can finally begin to manage and treat the burden of mental health disorders that are present in our communities.
It is interesting how the types of diseases change for black men soon after we hit thirty five. At this time the incidence of heart disease begins to increase along with cancer, diabetes, kidney and lung disease. Some may suggest that by the time we are approaching the half century mark our bodies are falling victim to the comforts of life. The hamburgers, hotdogs, snacks and sedentary lifestyle finally are beginning to catch up by this point.
We all have heard about the importance of exercise and diet. Now is the time to live it and teach it to those around it. Regular exercise and a balanced diet are the best medications one could want. This is especially important because many of us want to avoid taking medications, unless they are absolutely needed.
So in conclusion, make sure to remind all men but especially our young men to stay safe in their neighborhoods, make good decisions, eat vegetables, get plenty of exercise and to get a good education.
Yours in Health,
Feel free to contact Dr. Hill by email for any questions regarding this article.
Darryl A. Hill, M.D., is a practicing Internist in Laurel, MD. Dr. Hill graduated from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in 1995 and has been in practice for over 22 years. He completed a residency at University of Maryland Medical System and is board certified in Internal Medicine.