Quick Takes

Black Americans more likely to get kidney disease, less likely to get transplants

By: - February 6, 2023 5:45 am

Black Americans are at higher risk of developing kidney disease but haven’t been getting on transplant lists when they should. 

Black Kentuckians are around four times as likely to get the disease as their white counterparts, UofL Health’s Dr. Lina Mackelaite said last week. 

Lina Mackelaite, M.D. Courtesy: UofL Health

Yet an outdated nationwide screening system, which operated under the assumption that Black people had more muscle mass than white people and a higher percentage of kidney function, meant the former waited longer to get help. 

“The problem is that there’s no good evidence that African American people actually have higher muscle mass,” Mackelaite explained. “This was based on really poorly conducted … studies.”

“It just was assumed that they have a higher muscle mass,” she added. “And nobody ever looked until now (to see) if that’s really true.”  

Transplant programs around the country are now working to fix the system after a federal green light allowed for wait-time adjustments for Black patients, USA Today previously reported. 

A kidney transplant could add seven years of life and is the best treatment for kidney disease, said Mackelaite. 

UofL Health will be contacting patients to try to rectify their waiting lists, Mackelaite said.

“We will look through our whole transplant list and we will identify people who … should have been listed. These people will get their wait time back so that it is fair and so that they are not disadvantaged.” 

America’s Health Rankings reported that in 2021 about 4% of Kentucky’s population had kidney disease, higher than the national percentage of 3%. The commonwealth’s population in 2021 was about 4.5 million. That means around 130,000 Kentuckians had kidney disease that year. 

Mackelaite said the best way to ensure healthy kidney function is to have balanced food intake.


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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky. She has covered everything from crime to higher education. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. At the Kentucky Lantern, she covers mental health, abortion, COVID-19 and more.