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Health Equity is Health for All

A tale of two neighborhoods

Imagine a neighborhood filled with laughing children at a playground surrounded by green fields. In this same neighborhood, there are parents walking to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the local farmers market. Runners are pounding the pavement as they briskly jog to the local recreation center for a group workout.

Now imagine, just twenty miles away from this neighborhood, a community where children are dodging traffic as they attempt to cross the street to play in a concrete parking lot of an abandoned grocery store. A father is walking to the corner convenient store in hopes of finding fresh vegetables for a salad, and a grandmother is unable to access public transportation for a doctor's visit to learn how to manage her blood pressure.

This is the tale of many neighborhoods across the country. Neighborhoods separated only by a few miles yet with many complex differences – such as the physical environment, limited access to services, discrimination, and income levels – that greatly influence the health and well-being of people living in those communities.

Raising Awareness

Photo: Co-workers of different nationalitiesApril is National Minority Health Month, a month dedicated to bringing awareness about health differences and gaps that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities. It also is a time where those committed to improving the health of the nation can discuss ways to close the gap and to reduce health disparities.

Health disparities remain widespread among members of racial and ethnic minority populations.

  • Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (49.5%) compared with Mexican Americans (40.4%), all Hispanics (39.1%) and non-Hispanic whites (34.3%)[i]
  • Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asians or Pacific Islanders[ii]
  • Compared to non-Hispanic whites, the risk of diagnosed diabetes is 77% higher among non-Hispanic blacks, 66% higher among Hispanics/Latinos and 18% higher among Asian Americans

All Americans should have equal opportunities to make choices that allow them to live long, healthy lives, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, education, income, or geographic area. However, social and economic conditions as well as the physical location where people live, work, learn, and play have a major influence on a person's health. In all of these places, people need environments that support healthy lifestyles for themselves and their families.

Photo: Interracial familyFor all Americans, other influences on health include the availability of and access to:

  • A high-quality education
  • Nutritious food
  • Safe and affordable housing
  • Affordable, reliable public transportation
  • Culturally sensitive health care providers
  • Clean water and non-polluted air

Responding to the Issue

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes every person should have the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential. CDC is employing a number of community-based programs to reach minority groups. An example of a program is the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH). REACH is a national initiative vital to the CDC’s efforts to tackle disparities in health. Through REACH, CDC supports programs that specifically address health issues among African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders.

REACH communities address health issues across a wide range of health areas such as heart disease, diabetes, breast and cervical cancer, infant mortality, asthma, immunization, and obesity.

It Takes a Community

This year’s theme for Minority Health Month, Advance Health Equity Now: Uniting Our Communities to Bring Health Care Coverage to All, encourages community leaders, community-based organizations, businesses, faith-based organizations, and partners across the U.S., to unite towards a common goal of improving the health of our communities by increasing access to quality, affordable healthful benefits for everyone.

Public health organizations cannot do it alone.  In an effort to encourage community transformation and improve health, different types of organizations, agencies, and individuals must work together. CDC is working with communities to address the gaps in minority health by bringing together many sectors including education, transportation, health, and agriculture to help make these changes.

More Information

If you would like to hear or learn more about health equity and social determinants of health, please register for a Department of Health and Human Services webinar that is scheduled for April 24, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. or click on the following links:

References

  • [i] JAMA. 2012;307(5):491-497. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.39
  • [ii] http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
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