The encouraging news in a recent survey of Black men in the U.S. over age 50 is that most feel good about their health. But more preventative care and better lifestyle choices could mean even better health, with lack of access and awareness hindering forward progress.
AARP conducted a national survey of more than 1,200 Black men to get a snapshot of their physical and mental health, experiences with health care providers, and views on disease prevention. Three-quarters (76%) of respondents gave a good, very good, or excellent assessment of their physical health; 83% gave the same positive marks for their emotional health, and 84% gave the same marks for their mental health.
Healthy Habits and Mental Health
Still, AARP discovered some disconnects. The survey found 80% of Black men 50-plus are aware that eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight lowers their risk for serious health conditions and most believe they are eating well. Yet, 42% acknowledge being overweight, just 24% meet the weekly recommendations for exercise, and only 23% report getting enough sleep.
With age comes wisdom, in this case regarding what contributes to a healthy mind and body. AAAP found greater awareness of the importance of diet, weight, physical activity, and controlling stress among respondents over age 50 compared to their younger cohorts.
When it came to smoking and drinking, the same held true. Respondents ages 50-plus reported they are not heavy consumers of tobacco or alcohol; only about half had either in the past 30 days.
Mental health, meanwhile, seems to improve over time. Just 14% of Black men over 50 reported high stress levels, compared to 22% of men ages 40–49, and 23% of men under 40. The survey showed that older respondents had little concern about depression. If help was needed, those 50 and over were more likely to say they would seek professional mental health treatment than were younger men.
Engaging with Health Care Providers
As for the important practice of seeing a health care provider regularly, 85% say they had an office visit within the last year, and most are pleased with the quality of care they received. Those who didn't go the doctor regularly most often said it was too expensive or that they didn't have a need to do so.
Routine checkups are more common with men as they get older; 63% of men ages 50-plus report getting them compared to 38% of men ages 18–39. Still, the research suggests proactive conversations about preventive care measures often fall short. For instance, just 40% of respondents say they had discussed exercise and 36% had talked about diet with their physicians.
Also, sometimes important tests for blood pressure, blood sugar, and prostate health were not being conducted, potentially leading to missed diagnoses. Yet, 74% of older respondents acknowledge the value of having recommended screening tests. When AARP asked respondents 50 and over about their top health concerns, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and diabetes came up the most. The leading causes of death among Black men are heart disease and cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About three-quarters of Black men of all ages surveyed believe that family health diseases are preventable. However, survey questions about their knowledge of health topics, including how to manage various conditions, reveal a need for better education.
Family members have the greatest influence on Black men seeking medical treatment. The survey shows that for 53% of respondents, a spouse or partner was the leading influencer concerning decisions to seek medical care, while 48% also say they listened first to parents or close elders. Listening to children, grandchildren, and siblings also ranked high for 44% of the respondents.
From its findings, AARP concluded that further research is needed, as well as resources and focus on awareness of health care for Black men. The report underscores the importance of Black men working with primary care physicians to craft individual care plans that emphasize prevention and lifestyle habits for better health.
The information about Black men's attitudes toward health was gathered in an online survey conducted by ANR for AARP in October and November of 2022. The national sample of 400 men ages 18–39, 408 men ages 40–49, 402 men ages 50-plus, and 401 women ages 50-plus was weighted by age, education, race/ethnicity.