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Americans overall have been getting healthier in recent decades. But the improvement has not been shared equally. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), among nonelderly adults, for example, 17 percent of Hispanic, and 16 percent of African Americans report they are in fair or poor health, compared with 10 percent of white Americans. Statistics also show that minority groups have higher rates of several serious diseases in this country.
There are several reasons that are given for the disparities in healthcare between minority groups and non-minority Americans. Among them, according to AHRQ, are disparities in the following areas:
Because of these issues, a number of health conditions take a heavier toll on minority groups. The Office of Minority Health (OMH) of the US Department of Health and Human Services tracks statistics on this issue. Below are some of the OMH findings, based on studies conducted in recent years.
Cancer (Read about "Cancer: What It Is") is the second leading cause of death for most racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, according to OMH. For Asians and Pacific Islanders, cancer is the number one killer.
Cancer also hits African Americans particularly hard. African Americans are three times more likely to die from all types of cancer than whites, adjusting for age. African Americans also have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. This includes lung, prostate, stomach and breast cancers. (Read about "Lung Cancer" "The Prostate" "Stomach Cancer" "Breast Cancer")
In other minority communities, cancer is also taking a disproportionate toll. Hispanic men and women have higher incidence and mortality rates for stomach and liver cancer. (Read about "Liver Cancer") Hispanic women are more likely than non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. (Read about "Cervical Cancer") Native American /Alaska Native men are more likely to have liver and stomach cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white men. Native American/Alaska Native women are more likely to have kidney cancer (Read about "Kidney Cancer"), compared to non-Hispanic white women. Asian and Pacific Islander women are more likely to develop stomach cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white women. And Asian American men suffer from stomach cancer more often than non-Hispanic white men.
Millions of people have diabetes (Read about "Diabetes") in the United States, and pre-diabetes is far more common than previously believed. About 40 percent of U.S. adults ages 40 to 74, or 41 million people, currently have pre-diabetes. Racial and ethnic minority groups, especially the elderly among these populations, are disproportionately affected by diabetes.
OMH says that, on average, African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as whites. The highest incidence of diabetes in African Americans occurs in those over the age of 65. African American women are especially affected. End stage renal disease (Read about "End Stage Renal Disease") and amputations of lower extremities (legs and feet) are also more common in African Americans with diabetes. Diabetes is also more prevalent in older Hispanics, with the highest rates in Hispanics over the age of 65. On average, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites of similar age to have diabetes. Diabetes is also the fifth leading cause of death in the Asian American and Pacific Islander population.
Heart disease (Read about "Coronary Heart Disease") is the leading killer across most racial and ethnic minority communities in the United States. Although African Americans have heart disease rates that are comparable to whites, African American men are three times more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic white males. African Americans are also more likely to have high blood pressure. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure") Native American/Alaska Native adults are also more likely to have high blood pressure.
Mexican Americans, who make up the largest share of the U.S. Hispanic population, according to OMH, suffer in greater percentages than whites from overweight and obesity (Read about "Obesity"), two of the leading risk factors for heart disease. Other minority groups also have higher rates of obesity, according to OMH, including African Americans, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.
HIV/AIDS (Read about "HIV/AIDS") has had a devastating impact on minorities in the United States. OMH says that, in recent years, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for almost two thirds of the newly diagnosed cases of HIV and AIDS. In addition, three quarters of babies born with HIV/AIDS belong to minority groups. African Americans are more likely to die of AIDS than non-Hispanic white men. HIV/AIDS is also spreading in the Hispanic community, according to OMH.
In the United States, chronic liver disease is a leading cause of death. (Read about "The Liver") While 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. (Read about "Alcoholism" "Obesity" "Hepatitis B" "Hepatitis C") Over the past few decades, the death rate for chronic liver disease has decreased, partly due to the availability of hepatitis B and hepatitis C immunizations for children and adults. (Read about "Immunizations") However, disparities continue to exist among minority populations. OMH says chronic liver disease is more prevalent among African Americans, Hispanics and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. Asian Americans and Native Americans/Alaska Natives are also more likely to die from chronic liver disease, as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
Sickle cell disease (Read about "Sickle Cell Disease") affects millions of people throughout the world. Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder. (Read about "Family Health History") In sickle cell disease, a person's red blood cells are abnormally shaped.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the disease is most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America, Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries, India and Saudi Arabia. In the United States, NHLBI says that African Americans are most at risk. The disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births. Sickle cell anemia also affects Hispanic Americans.
Glaucoma (Read about "Glaucoma") is a serious health problem in the United States. The disease causes progressive optic nerve damage that, if left untreated, leads to vision loss. Glaucoma affects people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI), African Americans are particularly at risk. NEI says that glaucoma is the number one cause of vision loss in African Americans. Treatments to slow the progression of the disease are available. But NEI says that many people who have glaucoma are not receiving treatment because they are unaware of their condition.
The United States has made substantial improvements in infant mortality, but disparities still exist. The infant mortality rate for African American infants is higher than that of whites. This is also true for the Native American and Alaska Native populations. In American Indian/Alaska Natives, the rate of sudden infant death Syndrome (SIDS) is higher than that for whites. (Read about "SIDS & Sleeping Position")
The rate of asthma (Read about "Asthma") has increased in virtually all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The rates are higher, however, in the African American and Native American/Alaska Native population. In general, children have higher asthma rates than adults, but African American children have a higher prevalence of asthma than white children. OMH says that several minority groups, including African Americans, also have higher death rates due to asthma, as well as more asthma-related emergency room visits. (Read about "Emergency Room")
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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