Colleges emphasize health for black men

By Benjamin Y. Lowe Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) PHILADELPHIA _ Michael Edgerton, a sophomore at Lincoln University, knows he is supposed to get regular checkups at the doctor’s office when he is home from school. But Lincoln is a long way from his doctor in New York City, and there is no other convenient place for him to go if he wants an interim checkup. Besides, he is busy: Like any normal college student, he has classes to attend, studying to do and video games to play. “These are things I would want to know but wouldn’t go to have checked,” he said as a student nurse measured his blood pressure in the university’s cafeteria. Officials at Lincoln agree. The institution is one of five historically black colleges that this year have set up Offices of Minority Male Health. Their task: to instill healthy living habits in black men, a group that in the United States is more likely to be diagnosed with certain diseases than other segments of the population. It is no secret than men do not see doctors as often as they should. That is compounded, research has shown, by race and by factors influenced by race. “The focus is to begin to educate (young men at the university) so that they will improve in terms of their behavior and increase their life span,” said Herschel Bailey, director of Lincoln’s office. “You would assume that everyone in every home teaches them (healthy habits), but if you look at what’s happening, that is not the case.” Black men have the second-lowest life expectancy among ethnic groups, and are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer and seven times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS compared with white men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, black men are more likely to die from diabetes, contract sexually transmitted diseases and suffer from cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, than other groups, according to the center. “For every health issue, we know that culture, class and race make a difference,” said John A. Rich, medical director for the Boston Public Health Commission and an expert on disparities in health care. “But when we talk about race, we really are talking about race as a social issue that tracks back to racism.” Racism, he said, has led to historical differences between whites and blacks in education, wealth and environment. “Some of the differences we see may be related to differences in behavior, but some of the differences may be related to availability of (health-care) resources,” he said. At Lincoln and the four other universities participating in the consortium, that means conducting health screenings, sponsoring lectures, running workshops _ basically blanketing campuses with information and events focused on healthy living. The goal is to have the program radiate from the students at the schools to other pockets of the black community, said Charles Releford, who is directing the consortium from Morehouse College in Atlanta. “We would like to have this population educated enough to start making good decisions about their health,” he said. In addition to Lincoln and Morehouse, the institutions involved are Morgan State University in Baltimore, Bowie State University in Bowie, Md., and Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio. The five schools received a two-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They received the grant after a decade-long debate. “The department was reaching out broadly and looking into what type of efforts we’re making around women’s health. There was a realization that nobody was reaching out to minority males,” said Nathan Stinson Jr., director of the department’s Office of Minority Health and a deputy assistant secretary. “We were really lagging behind, and if it wasn’t something we grabbed onto quickly, we were going to lose ground.” Stinson, Releford and Bailey said they did not have fixed criteria for measuring the program’s effectiveness. What the three did say was that, to be effective over the long term, the program must last longer than the two years for which the government has provided funding. Stinson said he envisions establishing the consortium to a point where it can operate by using money from states or nonprofits, if the government does not extend funding. Meanwhile at Lincoln, the blood-pressure screenings continue. Ten minutes after Edgerton had his blood checked, a disc jockey started telling those eating lunch to come over for a free screening. “Be healthy, have your blood checked,” he said. After finding out his blood pressure was fine, Roosevelt Valez Jr., a sophomore finance and Spanish major from Philadelphia, said he had benefitted from the increased health programming on campus. “Before, nobody was saying anything to me” about sexually transmitted diseases, he said. “But now that it’s been brought to my attention, I am now aware of it.” ___ ‘copy 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.