Friday, April 8, 2011

What are Health Disparities?

As I work to build a career in the Public Health field, my current research focuses on the complex issue of Health disparities. What are health disparities you might ask? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.

Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social and economic obstacles to health, based on their racial or ethnic group, Socioeconomic status, geographic location, gender and other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

It is a known fact that people of color tend to suffer poorer health and get poorer health than their white counterparts.  Health disparities are complex, as is the history of the U.S. Therefore, it is simply NOT just about what we do or do not personally. Health disparities takes into account, the neighborhoods in which we live, work and play. It is about the availability of healthy foods in one's neighborhood, the availability of parks, playgrounds, sidewalks etc.

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, spends the most on health care; yet Americans do not live as long and healthy as people in other countries. Makes no sense right?! I firmly believe that racial and ethnic disparities are to blame for that among other things for the low rankings. If America takes care of people, I mean all of them as it should, then the health status of this country should improve (do doubt). According to the US Department of Health & Human Services & the Office of Minority Health:
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults are 1.3 times as likely as White adults to have high blood pressure
  • Mexican American women are 1.2 times more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have high blood pressure.
  • From 2005-2008, African American women were 60% more likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic White women. 
  • In Hawaii, Native Hawaiians are more than 5.7 times as likely as Whites living in Hawaii to die from diabetes
 Any thoughts on how these racial health disparities can be eliminated? As early as today, the U.S. government recently announced a plan to reduce health disparities, which they have outlined here.

Any thoughts?