The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly worsened long-standing racial health disparities in Philadelphia's African American community. Independence Blue Cross is committed to addressing issues of equity to improve the health and well-being of the people we serve — it is the driving force behind the Our Community. Our Health. campaign with The Philadelphia Tribune.
Here's what we know:
The COVID-19 vaccines are our best protection against severe illness from COVID-19. However, in Philadelphia, vaccination rates are lowest among the African American community, especially in younger adults. It's normal to have questions about the vaccine. For African Americans, those questions are often rooted in an understandable distrust of the medical community because of race-based inequities in health care outcomes and a history of systemic racism.
But it's important to know that studies and health experts, including many African American doctors, agree that the COVID-19 vaccines are the most reliable way to build protection. The vaccines are:
COVID-19 boosters: The CDC recommends anyone over the age of 12 should get an additional dose (called a booster) to increase the body's immune response to new variants, like the Omicron variant.
Child vaccinations: African American children ages 5-11 are 2.3 times less likely to be vaccinated than their white peers. Children do not have natural immunity to COVID-19. Everyone ages 5 years and older can now get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Increased rates of conditions such as diabetes, cardiac disease, and hypertension are also putting African American women in the Philadelphia region at substantially higher risk for childbirth complications.
African American women in Philadelphia have nearly a percentage point higher prevalence of cardiac disease than white women. Women with cardiac disease are 14 times more likely to develop a Severe Maternal Morbidity Measure (SMM), which are 21 adverse events or unexpected outcomes from labor and delivery. In Philadelphia, SMM rates are nearly 190 percent higher for African American women.
In a 2021 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association survey, African American women reported feeling less confident than white women they would receive the care they need. The survey also found that only 62 percent of African American mothers were able to complete all recommended prenatal visits, citing transportation barriers or scheduling conflicts.
Independence has developed and supports solutions to help improve maternal health:
The African American community is facing urgent health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. These conditions exist at alarming rates and impact daily quality of life and longevity. More alarming, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity tend to occur together, so individuals who develop one of these conditions often develop another. The good news is there are steps you can take to prevent and manage chronic conditions.
Diabetes. African Americans are much more likely to be diagnosed with — and die from — diabetes than their white counterparts. Individuals with diabetes can experience serious health complications, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, skin conditions, depression, and more. Diabetes is hereditary, so those with a family history of the condition need to be more careful and mindful about prevention.
Heart disease. The leading cause of death in African Americans is heart disease. In fact, the rate of high blood pressure in African Americans is the highest in the world! High blood pressure can lead to a range of problems, including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure. High blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease.
Obesity. Obesity is calculated using body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight. People are considered obese if they have a BMI of 30.0 or higher. African American women have higher rates of obesity or being above average weight than other groups in the United States. Being obese increases the risk of many serious health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and early death.
Healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent or manage these chronic health conditions.
Eat well. A healthy diet is key for diabetes prevention and effectively controlling your blood sugar. Read how a change in nutrition helped one woman take control of a prediabetes diagnosis. Eating healthy includes eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and control heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure.
Get active. Regular exercise (30 minutes a day, five days a week), such as walking, water aerobics, dancing, and biking, can help prevent heart disease. It can also help you manage your weight and improve blood sugar levels.
Keep your heart healthy. Limiting salt and saturated fat, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk for heart disease.
Talk to a doctor. There are screenings available for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other conditions. Independence members can locate a provider here: