While National Men’s Health Month draws to a close at June’s end, the St. Louis Health Department’s mission of helping Black men and all members of under-served communities continues year-round.
Imperative to reaching better health outcomes throughout the region is finding ways to get more men into doctor’s offices.
“We want all men to have health insurance,” said Bobie Williams, city Department of Health men’s health service manager.
However, Williams knows for many Black and brown men, a lack of health insurance is one of many health disparities they might face.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disparity in life expectancy between men and women grew in 2020 from 5.1 years in 2019 to 5.7 years in 2020.
Heart ailments are a leading cause in the drop in life expectancy for Black and brown men.
According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health report, in 2018 for every 100,000 deaths in America, Black men dying from heart disease comprised nearly 300. White men comprised 213.
The report also concludes that 57% of Black men are diagnosed with hypertension, compared to white men at 50%.
Williams is determined to help keep all men healthy and seeks to reduce the large gap between healthy white men and healthy men of color.
He has served 14 years with the department and directs its Health and Equity Program. It partners with the St. Louis Integrated Health Network, and together they help men navigate through healthcare services.
This includes helping them gain access to health insurance, a primary physician, and an annual preventive health examination. Since 2019, the program has provided men's health presentations to over 260 men in St. Louis.
According to a city of St. Louis study, African Americans are twice as likely to not have health insurance as other members of the community. That means that 20,000, or 14% of African Americans in the city are uninsured. Just 7% of white residents are uninsured.
The city’s Hispanic population is the most likely to be uninsured, registering at 21.7%. According to the report, if health insurance coverage rates were equitable, nearly 11,000 more Black residents would have health insurance.
Williams encourages men to complete preventive health examinations, adding that most men don’t get an annual exam even if they are insured.
“You gotta know what’s going on with your body,” said Williams, emphasizing how important it is for men to have a trusted primary physician
“The keyword is ‘trusted.’ You're not going to share vital information or personal information, like how your body is feeling with someone you do not trust.”
He recommends men have a lipid panel completed and discuss results with a doctor. It is a blood test that measures the amount of certain fat molecules called lipids in blood. Men should also inquire about their enzyme number count, and blood pressure.
Williams calls those numbers, “the blueprint to your body.”
During community conversations, Williams addresses the top 10 diseases that impact Black and brown men at a disproportionately higher rate compared to white men.
They are heart disease; cancer; strokes; chronic lower respiratory disease; Alzheimer's disease; kidney disease; diabetes; and, as of 2021, COVID-19.
To keep men of color engaged and proactive about their health, Williams suggests lifestyle changes that promote a healthier mind and body.
He hopes to change the narrative of how men view their bodies, by changing attitudes about health that begin when they are young.
“It starts from childhood, our culture teaches boys that when they are hurt to ‘man up’ and that type of attitude reinforces men ignoring their bodies when something is wrong,” he said.
“We are conditioned that our bodies don’t matter.”
To slow that thinking throughout communities, Williams and the Brown School at Washington University are partners in the Home Grown initiative. It will be a St. Louis version of the national initiative, My Brother’s Keeper.
The local effort is for young boys and men from underserved communities and will help them promote overall healthy lives.
Ashley Winters is The St. Louis American Report for America reporter.