As we continue to navigate the multiple complexities brought about through the COVID-19 global pandemic, we are shown the dedication and care of our selfless healthcare professionals, but also reminded of the unfortunate reality that health disparities still exist.
For example, half of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Chicago area are African-American, while this demographic makes up only a third of the city’s overall population. In Louisiana, 32% of the state is composed of African-Americans, while they accounted for nearly 70% of deaths related to the illness. Other reports indicate that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting Hispanic communities as well. Hispanics in Oregon account for 22% of total COVID-19 cases but make up 13% of that state’s population. In New York City, Hispanics make up 34% of deaths while only accounting for 29% of the city population. These disproportionate rates among diverse populations boil down to past and present inequalities, lack of access to healthcare, and other social determinants of health.
Celebrated every April, Minority Health Month is a time to raise awareness of health disparities that affect diverse racial and ethnic populations on a national scale. This year, the Office of Minority Health has partnered with the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for the “Move Your Way” campaign to highlight the advantages of living an active lifestyle to promote and enhance emotional wellness.
Health Disparities Among Different Populations
Health disparities refer to differences in health and healthcare outcomes between groups that are closely linked through social, economic, and environmental disadvantages. It is important to understand –– and ultimately eradicate –– these disparities as our country’s population continues to diversify. It is estimated that over half the population of the US will be comprised of people of color by 2050. Disparities in health impact overall access to and quality of care. With our rapidly changing demographic population, it is important that we address the issue head on to ensure the sustained health and wellness of all within our country.
Studies show racial and ethnic minorities are 1.5 to 2 times more likely than whites to have some form of chronic illness including diabetes, asthma, and cancer. Moreover, between 1960 and 2005, the percentage of children with a chronic disease in the US almost quadrupled with people of color having higher rates of these diseases. African-Americans face the highest death rate and shortest survival of any groups for cancer in America. Hispanic and African-American women diagnosed with breast cancer were found to be diagnosed at a later stage than white women.
In Asian-American communities, studies found that roughly 70% of people are foreign born and proficient in a language other than English, which can impact the degree to which individuals obtain, process, and understand the health information needed to make appropriate health decisions. Naturally, this can lead to challenges that impact one’s overall health. In addition, Asian-Americans were found to have the highest levels for liver and stomach cancer mortality rates, both of which are some of the most preventable. When studying health disparities amongst Native-Americans, experts found they live on average five less years than all other population groups in the U.S. Native-Americans also die at higher rates of liver disease and cirrhosis, diabetes, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.
What Can We Do?
Spreading awareness of these disparities allows us to study and encourage the need to eliminate them. This year’s Active & Healthy theme is meant to highlight the many health benefits one can achieve through adding moderate to vigorous physical activity into their daily routines. It is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans meet the daily physical activity guidelines. Basic exercise has been proven to enhance health and reduce the chance of developing chronic diseases that are more common and severe in minority groups.
In addition to improving the health of our communities, working to eliminate health disparities will lower healthcare costs. Research suggests health disparities amount to nearly $93 billion in excess medical care costs and $42 billion in lost productivity.
The primary goal of Minority Health Month is to strengthen communities to eliminate disproportionate illnesses affecting people of color. Addressing social determinants of health –– factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care –– is important for improving health and reducing longstanding disparities in health and health care. We need to develop and implement plans that promote health equity to ensure all people have the opportunity at a healthy life.
As we continue to move forward, we must remember the importance of addressing the needs of all individuals in our country. Minority Health Month may come once a year, but its overall mission should be used each and every day to navigate the health and wellness of our communities.