The theme for this year’s National Minority Health Awareness Month is “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity; The Heckler Report: A Force for Ending Health Disparities in America,” This year marks the 30 year anniversary of the release of the “Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health.” For years, former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Margret Heckler observed that blacks and other minority populations had more health problems than their white counterparts. In 1984, she decided to organize a powerful task force to investigate the reasons for these disparities and and to give recommendations to the federal government on how to fix the problem. The report, now known as the “Heckler Report” was first released in 1985. The Heckler Report has been a driving force for the monumental changes in research, policies, programs and legislation to advance health equity.
Although 30 years of research and policy changes has helped the health disparities among whites and non-whites, the fact is that these disparities still exist and they need to be taken seriously. All minorities are at a higher risk for many diseases than whites, however the disparity is the greatest between non-Hispanic African Americans and non-Hispanic whites.
In 2012, it was reported that African Americans were 20 times more likely to have asthma than whites and in 2013 it was reported that they were three times more likely to die from an asthma related cause. Between 2003 and 2005, African American children were seven times more likely than white children to die from an asthma related condition and were three times more likely to be admitted into a hospital for asthma.
African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers including stomach, lung, colon, pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer. Statistics from 2009 show that African American women were 10% more likely to develop breast cancer than white women, yet were 40% more likely to die from it.
Among African Americans, chronic liver disease is a leading cause of death. African American men are 70% more likely to have liver and IBD cancer than white men and African American women are 1.4 times more likely to die from this than white women. The cause is not always known, some cases can be initiated by conditions such as chronic alcoholism, obesity, and exposure to Hepatitis B and C viruses (African Americans were twice as likely to develop Hepatitis B, in 2011, than the White population and had the highest rate of Hep B than any other ethnic group.)
African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as whites, and African American Adults are 70% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician than whites. They are also more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal failure and amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are also more likely to have high blood pressure.
In fact, African Americans are 40% more likely to have High Blood pressure and are 30% more likely to die from it than whites.
HIV/AIDS is extremely disproportionate in the African American Community. Men have 7.8 times the AIDS rate as white males, and women had 23 times the AIDS rate as white females.African American children are twice as likely to be born with HIV as opposed to white children. And both men and women are more likely to die from AIDS/HIV related complications than whites.
There is also a disparity in immunizations and flu vaccines for African Americans over the age of 65, as compared to whites. However, African American children age 19-35 months has comparable vaccination rates compared to white children.
African Americans have 2.3 times the infant mortality rate as whites. They are almost four times as likely to die as infants due to complications related to low birth weight as compared to white infants. Death from SIDS was 2 times higher from African American infants in 2009 and were 2.3 times more likely to not begin prenatal care until the third trimester.
African Americans are also more likely to suffer from mental disorders. African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than whites. However, whites are twice as likely to receive a prescription for anti-depressants. And suicide rates for African Americans is actually 60% lower than whites.
African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese. In 2011, African Americans were 1.5 times as likely to be obese as whites.
African Americans make up the largest group of minorities in need of an organ transplant.The number of organ transplants performed on African Americans in 2012 was only 14% of the number of African Americans currently waiting for a transplant. The number of transplants performed on White Americans was 27% of the number currently waiting.While 29% of the total candidates currently waiting for transplants are Black American, they comprised 14% of organ donors in 2012. Although the total number of white Americans on organ transplant waiting lists is about 1.5 times greater than that of Black Americans, the number of candidates waiting for a kidney transplant is almost the same between Blacks and Whites.Black Americans have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than White Americans. These conditions are known to put the patient at risk for organ failures.
African American adults are twice as likely to have a stroke as their white adult counterparts. Further, black men are 60% more likely to die from a stroke than their White adult counterparts.
With all of these health disparities that still exist between whites and minorities, it is extremely important to spread awareness about the diseases, what can cause them, and what can prevent them. This is a battle the Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have been fighting for 30 years. This is a battle they will continue to fight, and we should all continue to fight, until all heath is equal, despite race or ethnicity. Knowledge is power, and in this case knowledge is life. If you have not already, please take some time out and visit your primary care physician for a yearly check up, make healthy food choices, stay active, limit alcohol and stay tobacco and drug free!