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Health Disparities: A Primer


Times Staff Report

The fact that health disparities exist between groups in the United States has led the Health And Human Services (HHS) Department to create the Office of Minority Health.

As noted in the implementation action plan of the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, “The United States … continues to face significant and persistent racial and ethnic health disparities, with racial and ethnic minority populations bearing a disproportionate burden of illness, disability, and premature death.

“Healthy People 2020, which identifies and monitors 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans, defines a health disparity as ‘a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage’.

The diseases that show marked disparities in their occurrence or morbidity among African-Americans including the following, derived from disease profiles available on WebMD:

Diabetes is a number of diseases that involve problems with the hormone insulin. Normally, the pancreas (an organ behind the stomach) releases insulin to help your body store and use the sugar and fat from the food you eat. Diabetes can occur when the pancreas produces very little or no insulin, or when the body does not respond appropriately to insulin. As yet, there is no cure. People with diabetes need to manage their disease to stay healthy.

Heart disease, such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart disease, is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Prevention includes quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising.

Stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel or bleeding in the brain. The signs of a stroke include a sudden severe headache, weakness, numbness, vision problems, confusion, trouble walking or talking, dizziness and slurred speech.

Cancer, also called malignancy, is an abnormal growth of cells. There are more than 100 types of cancer, including breast cancer, skin cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lymphoma. Symptoms vary depending on the type. Cancer treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgery.