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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is There A Link Between Race & Disease?

around jackson, mississippi, where a common breakfast is eggs fried in lard, dr. herman a. taylor, jr. is known as "heart man." the respected university of mississippi cardiologist is director of the jackson heart study, the largest epidemiological investigation ever undertaken to discover the links between cardiovascular disease & race.

from now until 2014, dr. taylor, jr. & his team will follow 5,302 african-american residents of three mississippi counties: hinds, madison & rankin, they will observe their lives & seek to discover how their heart health is related to their environment.

for the study's participants there will be periodic medical examinations & referrals for care when problems arise. the ultimate aim of the $54 million investigation, dr. taylor, jr. said, "is to gain the information we need to stop an epidemic of cardiovascular diseases within the african-american community." the study is not without precedence.

the framington heart study, which tracked cardiovascular disease in three generations of new englanders, is thought to be the most productive investigation in public health history. but when the study was initiated in 1948, the town of framingham was mostly populated by second-generation immigrants & other whites. few blacks were included.

since 1963, death from cardiovascular disease for the nation as a whole has declined. yet, in regions like mississippi among african-americans mortality from heart disease is flat, or trending upward. particularly with women. a middle-aged african-american woman in mississippi has four times the risk of death from cardiovascular disease than a white woman elsewhere in the country.

dr. taylor, jr. & his team have identified a number of barriers to life quality, among them access to health care, high blood pressure, inactivity, obesity & smoking. they are also gathering relevant data on often overlooked issues such as anger, extended family, hostility, optimism, religion, social support & stress. they want to know what's killing folks.

african-american women in mississippi suffer from very high levels of obesity, higher than national averages. their rates of diabetes & hypertension are also quite high. fortunately, alcohol consumption among the women is much lower than average. additionally, the team will look at how these women respond to racial discrimination & how they cope with it.

one of the primary concerns of dr. taylor, jr's team is the immediate environment of the participants. a healthy lifestyle can be compromised when exercise - a jog or walk in the neighborhood - becomes a risky proposition. in other words: do people feel safe where they live? are there grocery stores in the area, or do people rely on the corner market with its customary jars of pickled eggs & pigs' feet on the counter?

in the traditional diets of african-americans in mississippi, the calories & fat are astronomical. they add up to being the fattest state in the nation. soul food, as such, could use a little tweaking. dr. taylor says, "the problem today for people living under stressful conditions is that harmful stuff is sometimes a cheap way to take a load off their lives & feel less stressed. i think that drives a lot of eating & smoking."

people in mississippi remember the highly controversial tuskegee study. in fact, the rationale for keeping valuable information from the study's participants was to not interfere with the history of their disease. says dr. taylor, jr., "we're an observational study. we take an active role in spreading the word about prevention. when one of our medical exams shows something of clinical importance in a participant, we contact their physician. if they don't have one, we have a group of local doctors who've volunteered to take them on."

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