There’s a new guide designed to empower Black women with the tools needed to take charge of their health.
Philadelphia-based writer Hilary Beard and president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative Eleanor Hinton Hoytt have co-authored “Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide.” (SmileyBooks, $27.95)
“Black women are disproportionally impacted by almost all the major diseases and chronic conditions; and unfortunately, many of us believe that being ill or developing a chronic illness or just living beneath our potential because of different health challenges — we accept that as our fate,” says Beard, who is an award-winning health journalist.
“In reality, people have genetic predispositions to things, but it’s really our lifestyle choices that trigger it.”
To that end, “Health First!” serves as a reference tool to help Black women address their most critical health challenges from adolescence through senior citizenship.
The book is organized into three parts: The first part takes the reader through the life stages of Black women, while the second section focuses on the top 10 health risks for Black women including heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression and violence. The third section addresses the steps women can make to take care of their mind, body and spirit.
“We look at health as a process, and how the life choices and decisions that we make in one phase in life carry over into subsequent phases — and either prepare us to be productive members of society — or can undermine our health,” says Beard.
The book connects the dots through discussions with health experts and uncensored stories of real women who survived and thrived.
“‘Health First’ teaches Black women how to see themselves through new eyes and encourages them to make new choices. It explains why we must place our self-care above all other responsibilities in our lives,” says Hoytt, who is regarded to be an advocate for eliminating health disparities among women and communities of color.
“Decisions made today have consequences tomorrow; that’s why we encourage women to think of their lives and health as a lifelong process, not just a series of disconnected events.”
While Black women have long been regarded as the nurturers who care for their family and loved ones, this often happens at the expense of their own health.
“What we’re proposing is that Black women flip the script, and we start taking care of our own health first,” said Beard.
“When you take care of your own health first, you surprisingly find yourself in better shape to take care of other people. We think that if Black women learn to take care of themselves first, they’ll find they won’t need to suffer from all of these debilitating conditions and are able to take care of all the people who we love — but it doesn’t have to be at own expense.”
“In many families — the mother, the auntie or the grandmother — is the last line of defense for the family between where they are now and the social service system. So it the Black woman goes down, the family goes down and the community goes down,” Beard pointed out.
“If Black women can learn to take care of themselves — mind, body and spirit — then we think that the Black woman can also be the lynch pin for building the community back up.”
The authors are in the midst of a multi-city book tour.
As the president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Eleanor Hinton Hoytt has brought pertinent health issues to the forefront and advocated against health disparities.
When Hoytt hosted a BlogTalkRadio show on “Why Is Pregnancy So Dangerous for Black Women?” she shed light on the nation’s maternal mortality crisis.
“Maternal health is one of this issues that remains in silence. We don’t talk about it. It goes unquestioned. What we have failed to do in this country is to talk about healthy bodies, healthy pregnancies and health throughout the lifespan,” said Hoytt.
“Particularly because we don’t have any accountability at any level for maternal health, the risks that lead to pregnancy complications and maternal mortality go unquestioned and unresolved.”
The report, Deadly Delivery, released by Amnesty International USA in 2010, assessed the dire status of pregnancy and childbirth care in the U.S. The reports notes more than two women die per day of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.
“Each time a woman dies, 30 more women nearly die from a complication of pregnancy or childbirth. They suffer what’s called a near-miss and hundreds of other women face a complication,” said Nan Strauss, report co-author and director of Maternal Research and Policy, Amnesty International USA.
“So all of the improvements that would bring down the maternal mortality ratio would also reduce those near-misses, reduce those complications and improve the quality of care and the health of those four million women who give birth every year in the U.S. So those maternal deaths are really an indicator of a much larger problem.”
Dr. Franklin Geary, director of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, said many women lack access to the health care system or providers and do not receive prenatal care.
Geary’s division serves Atlanta-based Grady Memorial Hospital and often treats patients who are facing high-risk pregnancies.
“Many of our patients that present for care at the latter stages of their pregnancy have not had any care or they had other issues that prevented them from seeing a provider,” says Geary.
He said it’s important that women receive prenatal care because they may have medical issues that need to be assessed early on in their pregnancy. Having access to prenatal care can help prevent adverse pregnancy outcomes, Geary said.
“There may be patients that are hypertensive that are on certain medicines that are not safe to take during pregnancy. If they get access to the system and they get care, then their medications could be changed to something that is acceptable to take during pregnancy,” Geary pointed out.
“There may be women who have undiagnosed urinary tract infections and urinary tract infections can lead to pre-term labor.”
Strauss says the pregnancy mortality disparities facing African-American women have held steady for about six decades. Black women are four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications.
“These disparities in the maternity mortality rate persist at every income level and every income level. So you see the same disparities among low-income women that you see among higher income women. You can’t write it off as it’s all about income and you can’t say it’s entirely explained by complications or risk factors,” Strauss said.
“I think it suggests that as a system we need to be looking at differences in the kind of care that people are receiving, differences in the way that people are being treated,” Strauss said.
During the discussion, Shafia Monroe, founder and president, International Center for Traditional Childbearing addressed the role that doulas, who are birth companions, have in helping women have healthy outcomes.
The Washington, D.C.-based Black Women’s Health Imperative works to advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls through advocacy, community health and wellness education and leadership development.