But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light – 1 Peter 2: (NKJV)
Most medical research conducted in the United States does not include a detailed study of African American women or the uniqueness of the African American physiology. That lack of knowledge has created disparities in the quality of medical care which African Americans receive. In 1984, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, previously the National Black Women’s Health Project, was formed in Atlanta, GA to address those disparities, and to address the health and reproductive rights of African American women. NBWHP was founded by MacArthur Fellow Byllye Avery, who was particularly influenced by the impact that public policy had on women of color and poor women.
The Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI), based in Washington, DC, is the only national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of our nation’s 21 million Black women and girls – physically, emotionally and financially. Their mission is to lead the effort to solve the most pressing health issues that affect Black women and girls in the U.S.
Also, in 1995, Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) was launched, sending health questionnaires to thousands of women including Essence magazine subscribers and the members of Black Nurses’ Association. For the past 22 years, the study has continued to gather data annually on the 59,000 women who returned completed questionnaires in 1995. The Black Women’s Health Imperative has used research of the BWHS to develop programs, initiatives and awareness to keep African American women healthy.
FINDINGS OF THE STUDY
Black women are more likely to develop certain health problems than white women. Until the 1990s, most of the studies of women’s health included only small numbers of Black women or none at all. Improving the health of Black women required more knowledge of the causes of these health problems and also more knowledge about how women stay healthy. More knowledge meant more research.
Through collaborations between the two groups, findings from the application of their research have included:
- Racism affects physical health. Experiences of racism are stressors that might result in health issues. Among participants under age 50, women who reported frequent experiences of racism in daily life or in housing, on the job, and by police were more likely to develop breast cancer. No other study has reported on this issue. Racism is also a contributor to increased obesity through changes in eating or exercise habits. In the BWHS, the occurrence of obesity was greater among women who had the greatest experiences of racism. This was the case whether women lived in segregated or non-segregated neighborhoods.
- Stress is the enemy. Too much stress can contribute to the onset of diseases: not just psychological illnesses, but physical maladies as well, such as heart disease, obesity, and premature births. Stress can also create chronic inflammation in the body, which can create other serious physical problems.
- Breast cancer shows up earlier: and deadlier. Black women are diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age (median age is 58 for black women, 62 for white women) and die at a younger age than white women (median age is 62 for black women, 69 for white women).
- Lupus occurs much more commonly among Black women than among other ethnic groups, and yet it is still a rare illness even among Black women.
- Sitting for long periods increases cancer risk. Women who sit for more than 10 hours a day – even at work – have a 40 percent higher incidence of breast cancer, as compared to those who sat for fewer than five hours a day.
- Beware of the night shift – The incidence of type 2 diabetes in the BWHS was greater among women who had worked a night shift for at least 10 years than among women who had not worked night shifts. A possible mechanism may involve sleep disturbances, which are increasingly being associated with adverse health effects.
- More fried foods and meat mean more cancer. High intake of foods in the meat-fried food pattern was associated with a higher risk of cancer.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
Does God want us to be healthy? Yes! God has created us to follow His Word; God’s Word and God’s ways bring us health and strength (Proverbs 3). Here are 8 actions to take now, compiled from the findings of the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the Black Women’s Health Study, with support from the American Heart Association, which can help us to achieve the optimum health which God intends for us:
1. Be proactive about your health (Matthew 7:7-8, 1 Corinthians 6:19). Get regular physicals, pap smears, and mammograms from doctors you can trust. Ask for referrals, ask questions, and get additional doctors’ opinions on diagnoses. Many doctors will treat us based on our weaknesses: not our strengths, or our ability to change our lifestyles and our eating habits! They will often not offer eating or exercise plans as solutions to common health problems. Seek out information about Black women’s health issues, and healthy eating and lifestyles. Be innovative! Our ancestors and forefathers have always created, invented, and “made a way out of no way.” Grow edibles! Even if you don’t have the yard space, lettuces and certain vegetables can even be grown in pots or planters. Create and discover new ways of cooking healthy at home (as opposed to eating out), which studies have found is associated with better health.
2. Get involved with your church. (Hebrews 10:25, Colossians 3:16). Studies show that religious involvement is associated with a healthy mental outlook. The Word of God provides peace, wisdom, and “strength to your bones” (Proverbs 3:8); church provides a support system of friends and neighbors, inspiration, and the opportunity to help others, among other benefits. Women in the studies who said they were very involved in their church tended to report excellent or very good mental health. Not surprising, right?
3. Change your environment – even if it means just taking a day trip (Genesis 12:1, Acts 7:3). Most people tend to be happier when they’re traveling for leisure or vacationing, of course, but a takeaway learned from a recent Cornell University study is that people also experience a direct increase in happiness from just planning a trip. And according to a joint study from the Global Commission on Aging, and the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, traveling actually keeps us healthier. The study found that women who vacation at least twice a year show a significantly lower risk of suffering a heart attack than those who only travel every six years or so. Also, according to the BWHS, women who lived in poorer neighborhoods more often developed diabetes than women who lived in wealthier areas. So getting away from the ol’ neighborhood for a change of scenery holds benefits for the body, mind and spirit.
4. Fill your plate with mostly fruits and vegetables (Genesis 1:29). It’s not only healthy…it’s Biblical! Include whole grains, root vegetables, dark berries and dark leafy greens in your diet. High intake of foods in the fruit-vegetable pattern was associated with lower cancer risk. Avoid or cut down on processed foods; any food that has 20 ingredients or more should be viewed with suspicion. Cut down on serving sizes. Also important: drink lots of water.
5. Cut out excess sugar and salt (Matthew 5:13-16). Limit high-calorie foods like sweets. Avoid drinks with added sugar. Cancers feed off of sugars, and excess salt creates inflammation: which accompanies many medical conditions including heart disease and diabetes.
6. Stand! (Ephesians 6:13). Stand while working, preparing foods: whenever you can. Walk around for short periods at work, even if watching television. Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle which results in 10 or more hours of sitting per day also results in 40 percent greater breast cancer risk. A 50% greater risk for diabetes was shown in those who sat for five hours a day or more.
7. Exercise! (Isaiah 40:31) Vigorous exercise reduces hypertension and depression. Participation in vigorous physical activity was associated with a decreased occurrence of both depression and hypertension among BWHS participants.
8. Rest. (Genesis 20:10) Get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation has been shown to not only affect the sex life, memory and physical appearance, but it can also put us at risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. Have stress-free mechanisms for relaxation. Prayer; hobbies such as art, gardening and being outdoors in nature; deep breathing exercises, stretching, listening to soothing, uplifting music: all are examples of relaxing activities we can engage in to keep stress at bay.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2.
With the mighty resurrection power of Jesus as our guide, we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.
Hear the voices of the Black Women’s Health Study Advisory Board speak about the impact and importance of the Black Women’s Health Study below:
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