June/July 2020 Issue

Editor’s Spot: COVID-19 and the Black Community
By Judith Riddle
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 22, No. 6, P. 6

Ever since the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) reared its ugly head late last year in Wuhan, China, it has spread like wild fire across the globe. The virus has infected more than 7 million people and claimed the lives of over 400,000 worldwide. Here in the States, COVID-19 has infected ~2 million and killed more than 100,000 people as of early to mid-June, according to the World Health Organization.

While many individuals and families have been infected and died from the disease, the black community in several states and large cities has been disproportionately experiencing higher COVID-19 infection rates and deaths compared with their white counterparts. For example, in Illinois, blacks represent 43% of COVID-19 deaths but only 15% of the state’s population; in Louisiana, blacks represent about 70% of deaths and make up 30% of the state’s population.

These shocking rates have mobilized black health care and civil rights leaders and policymakers to sound the alarm to influence development of public health interventions that can reverse this devastating trend.

As RDs working with black patients with COVID-19, you may be asking, “What’s behind these health disparities?” That’s a loaded question but one that can be easily answered.

It has been well established that individuals with underlying chronic health conditions (eg, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, lung disease) are at higher risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19 that lead to death. Unfortunately, black Americans have higher rates of these conditions than whites and other ethnic groups, predisposing them to greater infection and death rates.

You also may be wondering, “Why are there higher rates of chronic disease in the black community?” The reasons include racial inequality in the health care system and social determinants of health, a subset of personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that impact health. Many black Americans have less access to health care and healthful, affordable foods; are more likely to be uninsured and underinsured; and tend to be more socioeconomically disadvantaged than whites. These factors negatively impact health on a good day, but much more so during a pandemic.

Dietitians armed with this knowledge can improve nutrition messaging and nutrition counseling as they continue to work in hospitals, in public health, with food banks, and in private practice through telehealth services during the COVID-19 crisis.

This issue of Today’s Dietitian features the article “Social Determinants of Health,” which informs dietitians that the root cause of chronic disease and health disparities may not begin and end with behaviors and personal choice, but involve a host of factors that go beyond their clients’ immediate control. It’s an important, life-saving message—now more than ever.

Please enjoy the issue!

Judith Riddle, Editor