April represents National Minority Health Month. Here are a few of the many conditions that are more likely to impact Americans who members of minority populations.
In the United States, the burden of many diseases is carried disproportionately by minority populations. Even when the disease burden is spread across a population—such as in the case of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States—minority groups are more likely to have bad outcomes or die in greater numbers.
To draw more attention to health disparities across the country, and spur research initiatives for underfunded conditions, the U.S. Office of Minority Health celebrates April as National Minority Health Month. Read on to learn about some of the medical conditions that disproportionately affect minority groups in America.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen. These abnormally-shaped blood cells can cause pain crises, blood clots, infections, heart problems, and strokes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sickle cell disease is most common in African Americans, though it is also prevalent in people of other backgrounds. It occurs in one in every 365 Black or African-American births, and 100,000 Americans suffer from the disease.
Asthma is a lung condition in which inflammation can result in wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and narrowing of the airway, which can be fatal. Asthma can be initially diagnosed in both children and adults, and it can range from mild to very severe. African Americans and Puerto Ricans are more likely to suffer from asthma compared to other races, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In fact, African-American women are 20 percent more likely to have asthma when compared to non-Hispanic white people, and Puerto Ricans are three times more likely to have asthma when compared to the overall Hispanic population.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a medical condition in which a person has an elevated blood sugar level, resulting in a higher demand for the hormone insulin. The hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) of diabetes can result in serious organ damage, significantly impacting one’s quality of life. Diabetes is disproportionately present in minority populations, including African Americans, Hispanic or Latino Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans. Additionally, gestational diabetes, which is a diabetic condition of pregnancy, disproportionately affects Indian Asian Americans, as well as Mexican Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Obesity, which is a measure of body mass index (BMI) as assessed by a person’s height and weight, is a condition that is increasingly prevalent in the United States, with the overall U.S. obesity rate increasing from 30.5 percent to 42.4 percent over the past 20 years. Obesity has serious health implications, and it is linked to many debilitating chronic diseases. Obesity disproportionately impacts minority groups. Currently, non-Hispanic Black Americans have the highest rates of obesity, followed by Hispanic Americans.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Many sexually transmitted diseases disproportionately impact minority groups. These include gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and HIV. According to the NIH, African Americans represent 12 percent of the U.S. population; however, they have 5 to 7 times the rate of chlamydia compared to white Americans. Additionally, the NIH reports that 55.4 percent of gonorrhea cases and 38.1 percent of syphilis cases occur in the African American population, as well as 45 percent of new HIV diagnoses.
In the United States, the infant mortality rate, which is an indicator of how many infants die before their first birthday, varies greatly among racial and ethnic groups. Infant mortality rates in the United States are falling for some groups (as is the case with white infants), but rising in others (as is the case with African American and Hispanic infants). Native Americans and Alaska Natives have an infant mortality rate 60 percent higher than that of the white population.
Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It is airborne and typically infects the lungs, though it can also affect other body parts. Tuberculosis can live in a person’s body and cause no symptoms, but if a person’s immune system becomes weakened, TB can cause serious health problems and can even be fatal. According to the CDC, the burden of TB in the United States is significantly higher in minority populations, with 87 percent of all TB cases occurring in minority groups.
- In 2017, the TB rate was nearly 4 times higher in American Indians and Alaska Natives than the white population.
- In 2017, the TB rate was 35 times higher in Asian Americans.
- In 2017, The TB rate was 38 times higher in Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
One of the most striking examples of a medical condition that disproportionately impacts minority groups has come with the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As the medical community has raced to learn and understand more about COVID-19 disease, it has become apparent that the condition impacts minority groups more significantly.
Some research suggests that this may be due to the fact that minority groups are disproportionately impacted by comorbid medical conditions (such as obesity, asthma, and diabetes) that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
The CDC cites factors such as poverty, inadequate access to healthcare, lower healthcare services utilization, discrimination, inadequate housing, occupational risk, education, income, and wealth gaps as barriers that may account for the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 is having on minority groups.
How to Make a Change
It can be discouraging to learn about how many medical conditions disproportionately affect minority groups, regardless of your group affiliation. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, our primary care team is committed to providing holistic, comprehensive medical care to help every patient achieve their health goals.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to listen to our patients at every step of the way and help our patients learn to support themselves and each other. We can work together as a community to make positive changes, and we want to bring you with us on this journey.