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Arnold School of Public Health

Researchers across South Carolina partner with AARP SC to produce report on health disparities among older Black adults

April 14, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

A recent report sponsored by AARP South Carolina has found disparities among older (ages 50+) Black South Carolinians in 12 of the 14 leading causes of morbidity and mortality. The report, Health Disparities: South Carolina Non-Hispanic Black People Aged 50+, was produced by a team of researchers from the South Carolina Aging Research Network, Clemson Institute for Engaged Aging, University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, and Medical University of South Carolina Center on Aging.

“Complex issues such as health disparities and the social determinants that contribute to them require creative, coordinated solutions through collaborations with communities, institutions, healthcare organizations, and community organizations/interest groups to begin to dismantle disparities in health,” says Lucy Ingram, associate professor of health promotion, education, and behavior and a member of the research team. “Given this, the cross-institution, interdisciplinary team assembled to conduct this research is critical.”

In addition to experiencing disparities in 12 of the 14 morbidity/mortality causes that the researchers studied, older African Americans also face disparities in seven of the eight social determinants of health included in the study. Key findings on disparities for Black people compared to Whites include: 27 percent higher heart disease death rates, 16.1 percent higher rates of hypertension, 9.1 percent higher rates of diabetes, 61 percent more likely to die from stroke, 64 percent more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, 21 percent higher risk of getting and 50 percent higher risk of dying from colorectal cancer. Further, 5.2 percent more Black people than Whites indicated there was a time in the past 12 months they needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost. 

“The findings in this report are tragic and alarming. We want to find out how we can develop policies to eliminate health disparities in SC,” Teresa Arnold, AARP SC state director, said in a press release.

Turning toward solutions to eliminate these disparities, the team made several recommendations. Major recommendations from the report and the press release include:

  • Greater public health efforts are needed to reduce the high rates of hypertension among African Americans.
    • Hypertension plays a large role in heart disease and stroke as well as ADRD.
  • Black people suffering from a combination of diabetes, obesity and hypertension should be prioritized to receive targeted, coordinated and culturally appropriate healthcare and education.
  • There is a need for efforts to expand dental care to Black people, as tooth decay and loss are risk factors for various chronic diseases such as heart disease and ADRD.
  • Black communities need concentrated outreach and education to increase colorectal screenings and prostate specific antigen or PSAs.
  • Social determinants of health such as poor housing, homelessness, unsafe neighborhoods and lack of transportation significantly contribute to health disparities in older African Americans and require creative coordinated solutions through multi-agency collaboration.

The report is Phase One of AARP’s Health Disparities Project. Based on the Report’s recommendations along with the emphasis that the Coronavirus pandemic has placed on racial health disparities, Ingram is leading the team’s efforts to conduct Phase Two of the project, which will be focused on a qualitative investigation. The purpose of Phase Two will be to conduct interviews with African American adults, ages 50 and older, who reside in SC to explore health disparities that were identified in the Disrupting Disparities report as well as relevant, contemporary issues such as telehealth use, social isolation, and perspectives about the COVID-19 vaccine. The primary reason for the research is to understand what leads to the health disparities, the community’s perceptions of selected health disparities, and potential strategies to address the health disparities.

In the meantime, the team agrees that coordinated public health and healthcare efforts work to ensure Black people receive COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible. Further, AARP SC will host a monthly live Facebook show, Living Well with Dr. Bell, to address issues related to health and health disparities as well as answer health-related questions.


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