Good Health Starts with You: Health Disparity in the US

Good Health Starts with You: Health Disparity in the US

In the US, minority populations are subjected to health disparities on a daily basis. Health disparities can be defined as differences in health that are directly tied to social, economic, educational, and environmental disadvantages. Health disparities adversely affect minorities, women, children, the elderly, inner city residents, and residents of rural communities. These groups have historically experienced and continue to experience obstacles to health because they are members of a particular ethnic group, are poor, live in certain geographical areas, and are educationally and economically disadvantaged.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the leading causes of death in minorities are heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, diabetes, lung disease, homicide, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. These same issues affect minorities living in our area as well. Health disparities result in increased incidence and severity of certain diseases, poorer health outcomes, lack of health education, and difficulty accessing and obtaining health care services.

The main factors that affect minority health are economic status, environmental hazards, health status , educational status, access to care, level of care, lack of health education, transportation, and historical habits.

Among minority populations, poverty is more pronounced than among Caucasian Americans. As a result of poverty, many cannot afford health insurance. A person’s economic status determines access to housing, transportation, food, and health care. The higher a person’s income is, can improve access to healthcare. However, even when a member of a minority group has access to the same healthcare system as a Caucasian American, the minority member may not receive the same level of care for the same medical diagnosis.

Minorities are more likely to live in areas affected by environmental hazards. They may live in areas that have limited access to clean water and clean air. Water that has been contaminated by lead adversely affects the brains of growing children and causes other health issues. Poor air quality leads to lung disease.

Obesity and chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure are caused in part by inadequate access to fresh food. Food deserts result in poorer health outcomes. Many live in places that lack supermarkets or do not have available transportation to get to a market. Lack of knowledge about healthy eating habits also contributes to obesity and chronic health issues. The connection between healthy diets and good health outcomes is well known and has been well studied. Probably the two most well known conditions are high blood pressure and diabetes, which disproportionately affect minorities.

What can be done to decrease minority health disparities? Get involved in your community and your churches. Don’t be afraid to ask your health care provider about cancer screening tests and routine health screening tests for hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, and cholesterol. Take advantage of health fairs and free screenings. Keep your medical appointments. Learn to advocate for yourself and your family. Ask your neighbors, your church members, and community leaders to help you plant a garden or advice on where to go for fresh produce. Form a neighborhood walking group. Stop or do not start smoking or using any type of tobacco product. Contact your local hospital and colleges to find out what services are available to help the underserved and how to access those services. Provide a lift for someone in need.

There are local, state, and government agencies that are involved in research about health disparities. However, because health disparities are the result of hundreds of years of systemic inequality, resolving health disparities will require years of sustained effort by many individuals and agencies to eliminate poverty, racial discrimination, segregation, and environmental hazards.

If you have any questions about screening for colorectal cancer, options available to you as an individual, you should call your primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care physician, visit trmchealth.org/primary care to find a provider close to home.

About the author: Dr. Chris Brunson, is the Medical Director for Medical Oncology, at the Mabry Cancer Center of Regional Medical Center. She is a graduate of Howard University Medical School and did his Hematology Fellowship at MUSC.