Many minority groups in the United States face higher rates of certain health conditions than the general population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites various social determinants of health, such as poverty, race/ethnicity, education level, access to health care and insurance coverage, employment status, language barriers, and living environments that can increase an individual’s risk for certain diseases. Let’s look at some of the most common health conditions impacting minority populations in the U.S. and what steps can be taken to prevent them.
Diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, has risen steadily in the U.S. recently. However, minority groups such as African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are disproportionately affected by this chronic health condition. The reasons behind these disparities are complex and include genetic factors, dietary habits, health care access, disease education, and lack of disease management after diagnosis.
“Worldwide, type 2 diabetes has increased over the past two decades,” said Wilson Cruz-Leal, MD, of Baptist Health La Clínca del Pueblo “type 2 diabetes is expected to rise more rapidly in the future because of an increase in obesity and reduction of activity levels. In the U.S., the condition is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease (ESRD), nontraumatic lower extremity amputations, and adult blindness.”
In fact, the CDC reports that Hispanic Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic, white Americans. Diabetes is caused by high blood sugar levels due to either insufficient production or use of insulin by the body. Common risk factors include being overweight or obese; having a family history of diabetes; being physically inactive; having high blood pressure; being over 45 years old; or having gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Minimizing sugar intake and reducing saturated fat in your diet can help prevent or manage type 2 diabetes. Additionally, regular exercise can help improve glucose control while reducing your risk for other chronic diseases like heart disease.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among Americans, but according to the American Heart Association (AHA), African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure and are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease than Caucasians. While no single cause contributes to this disparity, it is believed that factors such as genetic and environmental, and cultural factors like stress, lack of access to healthy food options, and limited medical care in minority communities play a role. The AHA recommends lifestyle modifications such as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking if applicable, and managing stress levels as ways that individuals can reduce their risk for heart disease. Additionally, African American women are almost twice as likely as Caucasian women to die from heart disease or stroke.
High cancer rates disproportionately affect Native Americans due largely in part to environmental exposures from air pollution and toxins from landfills located on reservations. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Native Americans are more likely than any other racial group in the U.S. to suffer from late-stage cancers due to limited access to healthcare resources, which often results in delayed diagnosis and treatment options for many tribes across America. The NCI suggests that engaging in regular physical activity and eating plenty of fruits/vegetables, combined with limiting alcohol consumption, can help protect against certain types of cancer, like breast or colorectal cancer.
Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety can affect anyone regardless of race or ethnicity. Yet, minority communities often face unique challenges, including increased exposure to stressors, limited access to mental health services, and cultural stigmas surrounding mental health care. For example, in one study, Asian Americans are often underrepresented in mental health services due mainly to the cultural stigma surrounding mental illness within many Asian cultures.
Asthma is a prevalent health concern with no boundaries, but it disproportionately affects specific populations more than others. One study by the National Library of Medicine states that African American and Puerto Rican communities face considerably higher asthma rates due partly to environmental factors and access to healthcare domains.
HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ Community
While HIV/AIDS affects communities worldwide, the condition has significantly impacted the LGBTQ community. High-risk behaviors, lack of preventive education, and inadequate access to health care contribute to this disproportionate incidence. Addressing these disparities involves breaking down barriers such as discrimination, stigma, and social isolation and fostering health equity for the LGBTQ community.
It’s essential for everyone—especially those belonging to minority groups—to be aware of their personal risk factors when it comes to common health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Making simple lifestyle modifications such as engaging in regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, avoiding smoking/alcohol, managing stress, and getting regular checkups with your doctor can help reduce your chances of developing these illnesses down the line.
For more information about prevention, visit our BHealthy blog. If you’re concerned you may have any of these conditions, find a Baptist Health primary care provider to discuss your situation and receive appropriate care.
“Prevention of disease saves lives. Removing the language, socioeconomic and racial barriers that exist in our Hispanic community will help us positively impact health conditions in America”, said Dr. Marcella Jones DO, MPH, Baptist Health Family Clinic-Massard.
Baptist Health can help patients and families who don’t speak English or have limited English proficiency to bridge the communication gap and understand their health care needs. We are committed to providing quality, equitable healthcare for all individuals. Learn more about language services today.