Dr Chukwuemeka “Chuks” Nwuba, author of Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate explains that people assume Black people don’t struggle with eating disorders and it means their care is not up to standard
I jolted myself awake with my snoring, and looked across at my phone to see what time it was. It was 1am. Argh! I had fallen asleep on the couch and had only just missed a super-important video call with a contributing writer from the US. Fortunately, the writer and their team had mercy on me (no doubt the frantic, panicked emails heavily laden with apologies, that I had sent them shortly afterwards, helped). We managed to reschedule.
The process of writing can be challenging at times. There’s the sheer scale of research that may need to happen, there’s writers’ block, and there’s Publisher deadlines. But one of the toughest things about writing and curating my upcoming book Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate—apart from the umpteen number of video calls at different time zones that needed to happen—was truly appreciating the extent of health disparities that exist in Black people. The book seeks to dismantle various misconceptions around what eating disorders look like and who they impact (race, age, gender, body type and socioeconomic status). It also showcases how one can begin to understand one’s own journey of body acceptance and recovery, and support those struggling in silence. For too long, the assumption has been that Black individuals are immune from suffering eating disorders. We now know that could not be further from the truth. Such ignorance has led to disparities in eating disorder-related outcomes for Black people.
For too long, the assumption has been that Black individuals are immune from suffering eating disorders. We now know that could not be further from the truth.
Unfortunately, disparities in health outcomes for Black people exist in other areas of mental health also. For example, despite higher prevalence, Black adults have the lowest mental health treatment rate of any ethnic group, at 6 per cent, compared to 13 per cent in the white British group. The detention rates, under the Mental Health Act, for Black people are over four times that of their white counterparts. In a similar vein, Black people are eight times more likely to be subjected to community treatment orders than white people. A community treatment order is essentially supervised treatment in the community when one leaves hospital. The individual has rules they need to follow, and if they don’t, they can be made to go back to hospital.
Read more on race and the Church
Outside of the arena of mental health, Black women are four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth. This is in the UK, by the way. And when it comes to men, Black men are up to three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men of the same age. This is just to name a few; there are so many more.
The detention rates, under the Mental Health Act, for Black people are over four times that of their white counterparts.
The healthcare disparities in Black communities are deeply embedded within the fabric of society and healthcare infrastructure. And, in my opinion, all Christians should be uneasy with this—and uneasy with inequity, in general, to be honest. This discomfort should result in us responding to—depending on what we have capacity for and in whatever way we can—any unfairness or injustice as we see it. Principally, because we have been the beneficiaries of love in its most extreme form, which met us at our neediest. We should be looking to pay it forward at every opportunity we are presented with. The solutions to the many disparities at the intersection of race and health are pretty complex, but it starts with us identifying the issues first.
Pre-order Dr Chuk’s book Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate here.
- Ben-Shlomo Y, Evans S, Ibrahim F, Patel B, Anson K, Chinegwundoh F, Corbishley C, Dorling D, Thomas B, Gillatt D, Kirby R, Muir G, Nargund V, Popert R, Metcalfe C, Persad R. 2008. The risk of prostate cancer amongst Black men in the United Kingdom: The PROCESS Cohort Study. Eur Urol 53: 99–105.
- GOV UK. 2021. Reforming the Mental Health Act. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/reforming-the-mental-health-act/reforming-the-mental-health-act[Accessed on 22nd October 2023].
- GOV UK. 2023. Detentions under the Mental Health Act. Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/health/mental-health/detentions-under-the-mental-health-act/latest [Accessed on 22nd October 2023].
- MBRRACE. 2021. Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care 2021: Lay Summary. Available at: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/maternal-report-2021/MBRRACE-UK_Maternal_Report_2021_-_Lay_Summary_v10.pdf [Accessed on 22nd October 2023].
- NHS Digital. 2016. Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014. Available at:https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20180328140249/http:/digital.nhs.uk/catalogue/PUB21748[Accessed on 22nd October 2023].