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ST. LOUIS (KSDK) – Though fewer African Americans in St. Louis are dying from heart disease than 10 years ago, diabetes and cancer rates are still a cause of concern, according to a report by researchers at St. Louis and Washington Universities.

These findings are part of a report written by Bettina Drake, an assistant professor of surgery in the Public Health Sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine and Keith Elder, associated professor and chair of the department of Health Management and Policy for the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University.

"Chronic disease has been a critical issue for African Americans for quite a while," Elder said. "They tend to develop them earlier and have greater complications from them."

The report found that there was a 20 percent decrease in deaths from heart disease in 2010 versus 2000. The numbers were less encouraging, however, when it came to cancer and diabetes.

The region failed to meet the goal of a 21 percent decrease in cancer death rates between 2000 and 2010, and that African Americans saw less progress than whites in cancer death rates.

The region also failed to meet a 43 percent decrease in death rates during that same period, with researchers observing a 2.2 percent increase in diabetes deaths among African Americans – compared to a 2 percent decrease among whites.

Researchers say the disparities can be attributed to the lack of opportunity to make healthy lifestyle choices based on a difference in schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.

"One of the best strategies to address chronic diseases is prevention," Elderly said. "But without explicit health policies, it's hard to address the factors that cause the disparities in health rates."

He and Drake outlined a two-fold strategy for improvement.

1. Expand partnerships and embed health in all policies

2. Invest in chronic disease prevention and management by increasing awareness of healthy lifestyle programs, fund recreation centers and parks, and attract grocery stores that solve quality food

The study was funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

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