In spite of some encouraging improvements, the overall health of Americans is getting worse, especially among African Americans and other minorities.
Reports published in 2017 show some improvements in the nation’s health since 1990. Fewer people are dying of cancer and heart disease. Rates of infectious disease and infant mortality are down. Average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years, an all-time high.
But in spite of these gains, the overall health of Americans is getting worse. Experts blame factors like obesity, poverty, lack of insurance and unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking.
- About one in four Americans is obese. Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- About 47 million Americans don’t have health insurance. Nine million of them are children.
- About 45 million adults smoke, a well-known cause of disease and death.
- Almost one in five Americans can’t afford the health care they need.
How do minorities fit into this picture?
The problems are even greater among minority groups. Take African Americans as an example. Compared to whites:
- African American babies are 2.5 times more likely to die before their first birthday.
- African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to die before age 75.
- They get cancer more often and are much more likely to die from it.
- They have higher rates of obesity and the diseases associated with it.
- They are more likely to smoke.
Hispanics, Native Americans and other minorities have many of the same or similar problems.
There are real and disturbing gaps (or disparities) between the health care people need and the care they are getting. For example, studies show that:
- African Americans and Hispanics treated in emergency rooms are much less likely to get strong pain-relieving medicines than whites.
- African Americans, Hispanics and other racial minorities tend to get lower-quality health care than whites.
- Low-income people, regardless of race, get lower-quality care than people with higher incomes.
What’s being done to bridge these gaps?
Both public and private groups are taking action to ensure better health and health care for all our citizens. Some examples of these efforts include:
- The Association of Black Cardiologists’ program to improve the heart health of African Americans
- Programs to lower infant mortality, funded by the U.S. Office for Minority Health
- Programs that link doctors with community leaders to help them address the factors that affect access to health care
- Healthy People 2010, a disease prevention and health promotion project that aims to wipe out health disparities
What can minorities do to improve their health?
There are steps we can all take to improve our health, whether we’re black or white, rich or poor:
- Don’t use tobacco. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.
- If you’re overweight, lose some weight. Even 10 pounds could make a difference in your health.
- Try to get 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Being active can reduce your blood pressure, reduce your risks for diabetes and colon cancer, and help you control your weight.
- Eat a healthier diet. Choose whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Eat fewer processed foods.
- Practice safer sex. Condoms help prevent sexually transmitted infections.
- If you’re pregnant, take good care of yourself. See a doctor, and eat a healthy diet. Don’t smoke, drink or do drugs.