For some people, health insurance isn’t a second thought. They’ve had it their entire lives and have been able to go to the doctor for whatever they need, whenever they need it. For others, things can be a little more complicated—especially when it comes to minorities. Minorities face many hurdles in taking care of their health and well-being, and getting proper healthcare is just one of them. For some, there are also language barriers, transportation issues, lifestyle choices, and—most of all—stigma holding them back from being their healthiest selves. Whatever the case may be, these are some of the biggest health issues facing minorities today.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it accounts for more than 600,000 every year, and the age-adjusted death rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD)—which includes heart disease and stroke—are 33 percent higher for African Americans than the overall population. On top of that, American Indians/Alaska Natives die from heart disease much earlier than usual with 36 percent under the age of 65 compared to 15 percent of the overall population, says the American Heart Association.
The reason is simple: Minorities not only have more barriers in the way of receiving a proper CVD diagnosis, but they also receive lower quality treatment—resulting in worse health outcomes—than the white population due to income, education, access to care, and communication barriers, to name a few.
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, and it affects approximately 1 in 365 of the African American population and 1 in 16,300 of the Hispanic population, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The chronic condition occurs when the red blood cells become rigid and are no longer able to circulate oxygen throughout the body, causing everything from pain and fatigue to organ damage and stroke. Since a bone marrow transplant is the only treatment option—and is usually only done in those 16 and under, due to the increased risks for side effects and death—those with the condition are usually left trying to treat the pain with medication.
Alcoholism is a serious problem in the United States. Past data has shown 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year, and Native Americans have some of the highest rates of alcohol abuse. According to the American Addiction Centers, the rate of lifetime alcohol use is at 72 percent for American Indians/Alaskan Natives ages 12 and over, and there are many reasons behind it. Not only do Native Americans have high rates of unemployment and low rates of receiving both high school and college degrees, but they’re also less likely to have healthcare. In addition, it’s thought that history plays into the abuse with more alcohol use from unresolved grief over generations from cultural loss.
No cure for HIV exists at this time. In 2015, 1.1 million people in the United States were infected. But out of every race and ethnicity, African Americans are by-far the most affected at 43 percent, says the CDC. Even though HIV can be managed with treatment, that’s not always a possibility with the limited access to healthcare. There’s also a lack of HIV prevention education, as well as stigma and homophobia surrounding the disease. One in seven individuals are unaware they even have it, and that can cause them to pass it on to others. For every 100 African Americans with HIV in 2015, 60 received some care, 46 were retained in care, and 46 were virally suppressed. Then in 2016, 6,804 HIV-related deaths were reported among African Americans.
When it comes to obesity, African Americans are hit the hardest compared to other minorities. Past data has shown four of five women in the United States are overweight or obese, as well as 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic white women, says Office of Minority Health (OMH). And the problem starts young. Between 2011 and 2014, African American girls were 50 percent more likely to be overweight than non-Hispanic white girls. Past statistics have shown there are many reasons behind the health issue, including dietary choices, a lack of exercise (from time constraints, exhaustion, and the lack of an area to exercise), and cultural norms. Unfortunately, being overweight or obese can lead to serious health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
While diabetes can be managed, it can have a deadly outcome for minorities. According to OMH, African Americans are 80 percent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease and twice as likely to die from it than non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics are 1.7 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and 40 percent more likely to die from it. There’s also a problem with the complications. A deadly outcome can come from the health issues that result from undiagnosed or untreated diabetes, including end-stage renal disease.
“For some minorities, poverty, lack of access to health care, cultural attitudes, and behaviors are all barriers to preventing diabetes and having effective diabetes management once diagnosed,” OMH director Jonca Bull, MD, told the FDA. “People live in areas and engage in behaviors that often don’t support a healthy life. They don’t have enough access to healthy foods and perhaps too much access to fast food. They also lack access to ongoing health-care services.”
Getting access to care for mental health issues is incredibly hard for racial and ethnic groups, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), whether that’s due to a lack of availability, transportation issues, a belief that it’s not needed and doesn’t work, or stigmas against it. Unfortunately, that’s something that greatly affects Native Americans—particularly depression. The American Addiction Centers say the group has high rates of suicide: two-and-a-half times greater than the national average for teens. While African Americans and Hispanics have lower rates of depression than whites, the American Psychiatry Association says the cases are likely to be more persistent.
Asian American women are at a high risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition where the bones are more likely to break or fracture due to becoming less dense, says the National Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. The problem is more frequent because they consume less calcium than white women, which is thought to be due to avoiding dairy products because of being more prone to lactose intolerance. While African American and Hispanic women also have a significant risk of osteoporosis, it’s not as high as those with Asian ancestry.
African Americans are at a greater risk of colorectal cancer—a cancer that affects the colon or rectum—than the general population. According to past data, 50 to 60 of 100,000 African Americans develop the disease due to lifestyle factors like diet, rates of obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. Unfortunately, the National Cancer Institute says those who are diagnosed at a young age have “significantly worse survival rates” than young white patients, even if it’s still in the early stages.
Breast cancer is also common in minorities—particularly African American women. According to the CDC, even though there’s not a huge difference between the rate at which black women and white women get breast cancer, the death toll in black women is higher. In fact, data shows deaths from breast cancer are 40 percent higher in black women than white women. One of the reasons for the higher death rate is thought to be due to less screening rates. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which “often is aggressive and comes back after treatment.”
There are a much larger number of smokers in those of American Indian/Alaska Native heritage than other minorities. According to the CDC, one in four (or 24 percent) smoke compared to one in seven non-Hispanic black adults, and one in ten Hispanic adults. Because of the high rates of smoking, the American Indian Cancer Foundation says lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women due to not only tobacco abuse, but also cigarette smoke exposure.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, American Indians/Alaskan Natives have higher rates of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than any other ethnic or racial group. A 2015 study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found a couple different reasons for that: combat experience and interpersonal violence. Due to the PTSD, they often experience “bodily pain, lung disorders, general health problems, substance abuse, and pathological gambling.”
Despite Asian Americans having impressive life expectancies with women being the highest of any other ethnic group, one health issue that can threaten that is a stroke. A 2019 study published in JAMA Neurology found Asian Americans are likely to have more severe strokes than white patients and a higher in-hospital mortality rate. Unfortunately, the cause isn’t exactly understood at this time. And for stroke signs to watch out for, check out for these Warning Signs of a Stroke Hiding in Plain Sight.
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