Patient Advocacy

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder

COVID-19 Panel Discussion


Nikeea Coleman, a mother of three teenagers who resided in Las Vegas, reportedly died of “complications related to COVID-19.” She was just 38-years-old and had diabetes and “underlying heart issues.” She was also African American.

Last month, a 60-year-old black man in Milwaukee died in his home due to COVID-19 complications. 

The medical examiner’s website listed diabetes mellitus and obesity as ‘other’ causes of the man’s death,” according to one news report.

In Chicago, where reportedly 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve black people, two African American women who were sisters, Patricia Frieson (61) and Wanda Bailey (63), both recently died of coronavirus. They both had hypertension or diabetes.  

There are several stories such as these. So many black Americans with underlying health conditions are dying due to complications from COVID-19

Conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity greatly increase the risk of COVID-19 complications.
At a recent White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci basically said that it has been known for quite some time that diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma especially affect minority populations, particularly African Americans. Having these conditions greatly increases the risk of developing complications and dying from the coronavirus. 

"It's not that they're [African Americans] getting infected more often. It's that when they do get infected, their underlying medical conditions...wind them up in the ICU and ultimately give them a higher death rate," Fauci said, according to this news report.

To give you an idea on how seriously COVID-19 is affecting the black community, note the following:

  • Data released from Louisiana revealed that African Americans only make up about 32 percent of the state’s population, but they account for 70 percent of coronavirus deaths in the state.
  • According to one report, “Black people make up about 14% of Michigan’s population, but 33% of its coronavirus cases and 40% of all COVID-19 deaths.”
  • Reportedly, despite making up only 14 percent of the population in the state of Illinois, black people account for 41 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois. 

And these alarming statistics are not just limited to a few states. This pattern is being seen across the United States, which you can read more about here. These conditions contribute to the erosion of our immune system and make us more vulnerable to viruses and infections.

These underlying conditions are particularly pronounced in the black community.

I recently discussed underlying conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc.) and how so many Americans in general have these diseases, making it harder for them to overcome the coronavirus. For example, almost half of all adults in the U.S. have some type of cardiovascular disease. 

But let’s take a look at rates of these conditions in the African American community:

  • Diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is one of the most serious health problems that African Americans currently battle. Reportedly, black American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure).

“The prevalence of high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) in African-Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world. More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic African-American men and women have high blood pressure. For African-Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe,” according to the American Heart Association.

  • Cardiovascular disease.

“Heart disease is the leading killer for all Americans, but in African Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher than in white Americans,” according to one report.

“Risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, start earlier among African Americans.”

  • Obesity.

Recent data shows that obesity and severe obesity rates are highest in African American adults, compared to other races. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

  • Asthma.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, African Americans and Hispanics are the largest minority groups in the United States. These groups also have the highest rates of asthma and the highest asthma death rates. 

This is a very complex issue.

The issue of COVID-19 overwhelmingly affecting the black American population is extremely complex. There are a variety of factors, including economic and social, contributing to this problem.

For example, one of the reasons why rates of asthma are so high in African Americans may be due to many blacks living in lower income housing which is often located in areas with higher air pollution (which may trigger asthma).

Lower income neighborhoods also tend to be “food deserts,” which are geographic areas where people have limited access to affordable, healthy foods. This contributes to the high consumption of fast foods and other ultra-processed foods that are affordable and readily available. Consuming these nutrient-void foods increases the risk of developing the underlying conditions discussed.

So many black Americans face multiple obstacles when it comes to protecting themselves from COVID-19.

It can be more difficult for black residents to practice social distancing because the population is more likely to use public transit and hold jobs that can’t be done from home. In poorer communities in the city, persons of color are also more likely to live in crowded homes, experts say,” according to one report.  

Furthermore, many African Americans (and other minorities) do not have access to good healthcare.

Racial and ethnic minorities may face challenges in having access to medical care in the United States. When they receive it, their care may not be equivalent to that for other groups. Why this is so, however, is a complex issue involving not only possible differences in ability to pay and provider behavior, but also in such factors as patient preferences, differential treatment by providers, and geographical variability,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

These problems existed long before the coronavirus pandemic, and it is way overdue that they be addressed. African Americans and minorities need better housing, better healthcare, better healthy food accessibility and so much more, but these needs are going to take time and require the action of legislators.

African Americans have to react now and take ownership of their health despite the many health obstacles they may face. And, of course, there are some African Americans and minorities who do have access to the necessary resources, but simply need to change their lifestyles in order to make them healthier.

It is imperative to combat these underlying conditions by being more physically active, aware of healthy eating habits and avoiding smoking.

Read here for tips on what you can do if you live in a food desert. 

For additional information on how to stay healthy and fight COVID-19, check out these other pH Labs blogs.

Now when should we reopen?

Listen to these doctors for some objective information regarding how and when we should return to normalcy.


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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