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Health Gap launches Black Women’s Health Initiative

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Close to 100 women attended the Black Women’s Health Initiative report out held Tuesday, Dec. 11, at The Center for Closing the Health Gap. The women learned of a new movement entitled Black Girls Rise for Health to be launched during Black History Month in February. Photo by Andria Carter

By Andria Y. Carter

The Center for Closing the Health Gap

Black women – more than any other group – are dying needlessly of preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, heart disease and diabetes. In February, the Health Gap will be launching a movement to help build a Culture of Health for Black women. The Black Women’s Health Initiative with the tagline “Black Girls Rise for Health.”

“We are looking to see how we can build a culture of health for Black women in Greater Cincinnati,” said Renee Mahaffey Harris, incoming president and CEO of The Center for Closing the Health Gap. She added that the goal of the initiative is to create a support system that multi-generations can benefit from the knowledge and wisdom from the collective and help build a culture of health.

On Tuesday, Dec. 11, the Health Gap released a report on Black Women’s Health in Greater Cincinnati. The report is the result of a series of focus groups conducted by the community-health organization asking Black women – ages 21 to 80 – about their health concerns. The women represented 25 Cincinnati neighborhoods, and Lincoln Heights, Springfield Township, Forest Park, Mason, Wyoming, and Covington, Ky. The focus groups identified five key areas of great concern for Black women. Those concerns are chronic illnesses and diseases, stress and mental health, fitness and nutrition, relationships and institutional racism.

THE REPORT states that locally 74 percent of Black women are head of household, and at times are always putting themselves last on their list of day-to-day activities. They are always putting something or someone else first before caring for themselves, and believe they do not have a good support system to help them take care of themselves. Nationally, Black women are holding conversations asking why everyone can count on them for support, but no one can be counted to support them.

Another viewpoint of the focus groups is the ability to manage their diseases (hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc.) means they are healthy and able to function daily. Women, who feel they are in control of their bodies and manage their health concerns, feel they are doing what is necessary to stay or get healthy. Only when they feel they are not in control of their bodies, do they view themselves unhealthy. For some women, they feel good physically, but have a lot of stress in their daily life. Those women who have no family support, or lots of “internal stuff” rated their overall health poor.

The health report also noted a number of comments women made regarding their health, their stress in their lives and what they believed about the health care providers in their lives. Several participants said:

“From where I’ve come from, I am healthy now. I am not just a cancer survivor. I am a cancer thriver!’’

“We need to ask questions, talk to our elders – knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your family history.”

“We’re always expected to be and do better than our White counterparts.”

“Male doctors, especially White ones, can’t relate to our issues.”

“White doctors don’t listen to us or respect us.”

“We value the Black family (“big mama”), but don’t value or understand a health man/women relationship and what value that bring to the family unit.”

HARRIS SAID the goal of the Black Women’s Health Initiative is to do more than just address the racism, sexism, medical problems and socioeconomic factors that contribute to the health disparities among Black women. The initiative is to bring multi-generations together to help celebrate the breath and depth and impact Black women have on Greater Cincinnati, but also help them become healthier and live longer.

According to the report, in general, the women said they felt Black women have worse health overall that their White counterparts. They are more likely to live with diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and major stress or depression. The diseases of chronic illnesses that were identified most often by the women in these groups were breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Women said they felt that obesity and high blood pressure were contributing factors to heart disease and diabetes, along with family history and genetics.

ALMOST ALL of the women said they believe stress is the major health issue for Black women. They talked about how stress affects every aspect of their lives, societal pressures and internal pressures. Mental health was an important issue women deal with daily. They believe Black women still face a lot of economic insecurity and racism in general, which then can lead to depression. The overall theme among the women was that racism affects their self-esteem and how they see themselves. There is a cultural baggage passed down from generations, they said.

Navigating the health care system is difficult for Black women, they said. They feel they need to be able to take care of their own health and to be empowered to challenge and communicate with their doctors.

They all agree there is not just one answer to creating a culture of health for Black women that we need to look at Black women holistically to create a positive health environment for them. Education and empowerment are the keys, they said. They also want to know how to connect with each other to build better relationships and to learn from each other.

They said they often felt alone and needed support to feel they are all worthy and valuable.

Healthy eating and nutrition are huge concerns for the women. The Black community’s obesity crisis is a symbol of just how at-risk this segment of the population is, with stress causing over eating for comfort and relaxation.

The launch of the Black Girls Rise for Health will occur on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

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