“The issue of health disparities is just as threatening to our nation’s wellbeing as a terrorist attack.”
Dr. Lovell Jones made that statement recently on Urban Wellness, the radio show that I host daily. It was shocking and eye-opening. Dr. Jones is Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He has spent many years researching the issue of health disparities and stays connected to the latest research. But Dr. Jones is not the only prominent voice speaking out on the issue. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released the results of a study with additional jaw dropping statistics: African American men incurred $341.8 billion in excess medical costs due to health inequalities between 2006 and 2009, and Hispanic men incurred an additional $115 billion over the four-year period.
If that isn’t shocking enough, how about this one: In the two decades between 1990 and 2009, breast cancer mortality rates widened between white and black women. In 41 of the nation’s largest cities, black women are 40 percent more likely to die of the disease than white women. In fact, African Americans are more likely than whites to die from heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. What’s going on?
It’s a complex mix of factors, ranging from access to care (or lack thereof) to lack of information and education about prevention. Additionally, Dr. Jones states there is a gap between discovery (of new treatments) and application (of treatments to those that need them most). “It’s something we simply cannot afford to ignore any longer,” he contends.
When too many Americans are sick and disabled, it affects quality of life for all of us. I’ve already mentioned the economic toll, but think about the human toll. Think about the extra load you will have to carry at work if one or more of your co-workers is consistently out sick. Think about the missed opportunities for positive family interaction when a parent is consistently ill and unable to engage with children or partners. Think about what a community loses when so many are not showing up to City Council, PTA, school board, or town hall meetings, because of illness.
April is National Minority Health Month, and this year’s focus of the Office of Minority Health is on raising awareness of the issue of health disparities. This is an issue that must get more attention, conversation, and communication, not just within the medical community, but the entire community. Solutions will be found across all sectors, including in addressing what school children eat, eliminating food deserts, increasing public transportation in many cities, building better sidewalks, access to new medical technology among minority populations, and better communication about why healthy lifestyle habits are so very important.
We’ve got whole range of problems to address as a nation. It’s going to take the collective brainpower of many. Let’s keep more of us healthy, so there are more of us working on ways to make life better for all of us.
Cynthia Nickerson is Executive Director of Positive Image Productions, a nonprofit media educational organization that produces health media projects such as videos, podcasts, and community events. Positive Image has received grant funds to produce media projects on breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems that disproportionately affect minorities. Cynthia spent 18 years as a television news anchor/reporter for various stations.
Cynthia is a board member of the African American Health Coalition of Greater Houston.
She received a M.S. in health communication from Boston University, a BA in broadcast journalism from University of Southern California, and is currently a doctoral student in health education at A.T. Still University.