April is Minority Health Month

By Margaret Adams

The National Minority Health Month Foundation was created in April 2001.

The goal was to eliminate the disproportionate burdens of premature death and preventable diseases in the minority (Blacks, Latinos, Native American, and Asian) populations through prevention, early detection, and control of disease complications.

Many lives were saved because of events like The Tom Joyner Morning Show’s Take a Loved One to the Doctor, and community health fairs providing screenings to check blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol.

One of the contributing factors to disproportionately negative health outcomes for minority populations is access to healthcare.  Historically minorities and poor people did not have health insurance, and were being denied care at health facilities. Minorities disproportionately work in jobs that do not offer health insurance, or where the cost is not affordable.  Many people were using the Emergency Department as a way to receive healthcare that could be managed in a primary care physician’s office.

The access breakthrough came in 2010 with the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aka Obama Care. The goals of the ACA are to make health insurance available to more people, expand Medicaid to cover all adults with income below 138% of the federal poverty level, and to support medical care delivery methods designed to lower the cost of healthcare.

Besides making healthcare more accessible, have there been any changes in the life expectancy and general health of minorities?  In 2001 the life expectancy for the United States was 77.2 years; for Black males that life expectancy was 65 years.

In 2012 HBO did a special on life expectancy and featured two communities in the Cleveland area.  Residents living in Lyndhurst had a life expectancy of 88.5 years in contrast to residents living in the Hough community who had a life expectancy of only 64 years! Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the life expectancy for the US has decreased for everyone. Unfortunately, it has decreased twice as much for Blacks and Latinos.  pubmed.gov

Another statistic that has gained attention is the infant mortality rate. In 2001 the national infant mortality rate was 68 per 1000 births.  Infant Mortality CDC   A report done by the Cleveland Office of Minority Health using data for the years 2012-2015 reported Cleveland’s rate was twice the national average (12.9 vs 6.0)

The good news is that through many community efforts the infant mortality rate dropped to 7.67 per 1000 births according to a report by First Year Cleveland for Cuyahoga County in June of 2020.

Improvements since the beginnings of Minority Health Month reflect a change in the way we view health in this country.  Health outcomes are looked at more holistically versus looking at specific health conditions.  The new framework is more focused on structural racism, and how a person’s health is impacted by a multitude of factors. These include genetics, income status, housing, the environment, the availability of healthy food choices, and a person’s experience interacting with the healthcare environment.

We need to keep in mind that the health of a person begins with the mother’s health before conception, and continues throughout pregnancy.  Health is continuous throughout life. What you do and how you treat your body during its youthful years impacts how your body will be during your mature years.

There are many informative reports available on the status of minority health. One is the Cleveland Office of Minority Health (COMH) (Round 2: Local Conversations on Minority Health) It gives a comprehensive picture of the residents of Cleveland.

So, what should one do for Minority Health Month?  Get  informed, and take individual responsibility for your health and the health of loved ones.