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Death Rates Have Fallen for Blacks But Many Still Die Far Too Young

Death rates have fallen by 25 percent for African-Americans since 1999, but younger blacks are still dying far too young from diseases that shouldn’t kill them, government researchers said Tuesday.

There’s been a “dramatic” 80 percent drop in deaths from the AIDS virus HIV among blacks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. And for African-Americans over the age of 65, there’s almost no difference in death rates compared to whites.

Image: A patient is monitored in an examination room inside the Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) at Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center in Washington, DC.
A patient is monitored in an examination room inside the Clinical Decision Unit (CDU) at Kaiser Permanente's Capitol Hill Medical Center in Washington, DC. Brooks Kraft / Corbis via Getty Images

But younger blacks are not doing so well, the CDC team found.

“Blacks in their 20s, 30s and 40s are dying from … heart disease and diabetes,” CDC epidemiologist Timothy Cunningham, who led the study, told reporters.

One problem is that the risk factors for stroke, diabetes and heart disease are silent. High blood pressure or clogged arteries rarely cause symptoms until there’s considerable damage.

Related: Minorities Have More Heart Disease Risk, Even When Thin

Another problem is getting health care in the first place. “Blacks aged 18–34 years were less likely to have a personal doctor or health care provider than whites,” Cunningham’s team wrote in the report.

Overall, blacks under the age of 65 have a 40 percent higher death rate than whites the same age. A black child born in 2014 can expect to live to be 75.6, compared to 79 for a white child born that year.

“At ages 18–34 years, blacks had higher death rates than whites for eight of the 10 leading causes of death among blacks in that age group (heart disease; cancer; cerebrovascular disease; diabetes mellitus; homicide; HIV disease; and conditions resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium (recovery from childbirth),” the team wrote.

“In addition, blacks have the highest death rate and shorter survival rate for all cancers combined compared with whites in the United States.”

Related: Are African-Americans Locked Out?

And blacks are far more likely than whites to be murdered. “Homicide is the seventh highest cause of death among blacks and has not decreased to any extent in the past 17 years,” Cunningham said. “In blacks 18 to 34, it remains the No. 1 cause of death.”

Young adult blacks are nine times more likely to die by homicide as whites the same age, the team found.

Part of the problem is behavior, the team noted. All Americans — black, white, Hispanic and Asian — need to eat healthier food and exercise more, CDC says. Blacks are more likely than whites to be overweight or obese and to get little or no physical exercise.

Related: Where You Live Determines What Kills You

But the problem goes beyond that. “Blacks had significantly lower educational attainment and home ownership and almost twice the proportion of households below the poverty level compared with whites across the life span,” the team wrote.

“We have to invest in places where people live to make healthier choices the easy choice,” Cunningham said. “Where we live determines our health. Where we live determines the quality of housing, determines the schools we go to,” he added.