Life expectancy and overall health have improved in recent years for most Americans, thanks in part to an increased focus on preventive medicine and dynamic new advances in medical technology. However, not all Americans are benefiting equally. For too many racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, good health is elusive, since appropriate care is often associated with an individual's economic status, race, and gender. While Americans as a group are healthier and living longer, the nation's health status will never be as good as it can be as long as there are segments of the population with poor health status.
Compelling evidence that race and ethnicity correlate with persistent, and often increasing, health disparities among U.S. populations demands national attention. Indeed, despite notable progress in the overall health of the Nation, there are continuing disparities in the burden of illness and death experienced by blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islanders, compared to the U.S. population as a whole. The demographic changes anticipated over the next decade magnify the importance of addressing disparities in health status. Groups currently experiencing poorer health status are expected to grow as a proportion of the total U.S. population; therefore, the future health of America as a whole will be influenced substantially by improving the health of these racial and ethnic minorities. A national focus on disparities in health status is particularly important as major changes unfold in the way in which health care is delivered and financed.
Current information about the biologic and genetic characteristics of minority populations does not explain the health disparities experienced by these groups compared with the white, non-Hispanic population in the United States. These disparities are believed to be the result of the complex interaction among genetic variations, environmental factors, and specific health behaviors.
- Even though the Nation's infant mortality rate is down, the infant death rate among African Americans is still more than double that of whites. Heart disease death rates are more than 40 percent higher for African Americans than for whites. The death rate for all cancers is 30 percent higher for African Americans than for whites; for prostate cancer, it is more than double that for whites. African American women have a higher death rate from breast cancer despite having a mammography screening rate that is nearly the same as the rate for white women. The death rate from HIV/AIDS for African Americans is more than seven times that for whites; the rate of homicide is six times that for whites.
- Hispanics living in the United States are almost twice as likely to die from diabetes as are non-Hispanic whites. Although constituting only 11 percent of the total population in 1996, Hispanics accounted for 20 percent of the new cases of tuberculosis. Hispanics also have higher rates of high blood pressure and obesity than non-Hispanic whites. There are differences among Hispanic populations as well. For example, whereas the rate of low birth weight infants is lower for the total Hispanic population compared with that of whites, Puerto Ricans have a low birth weight rate that is 50 percent higher than the rate for whites.
- American Indians and Alaska Natives have an infant death rate almost double that for whites. The rate of diabetes for this population group is more than twice that for whites. The Pima of Arizona have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. American Indians and Alaska Natives also have disproportionately high death rates from unintentional injuries and suicide.
- Asians and Pacific Islanders, on average, have indicators of being one of the healthiest population groups in the United States. However, there is great diversity within this population group, and health disparities for some specific segments are quite marked. Women of Vietnamese origin, for example, suffer from cervical cancer at nearly five times the rate for white women. New cases of hepatitis and tuberculosis also are higher in Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States than in whites.
HealthyNJ also offers pages with links to health information for: African Americans, Asian Americans, Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered, Native Americans, Rural Residents, Urban Residents, and Veterans.