State report hits health disparities

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Members of minority groups suffer from more health problems than whites, according to a report by the Department of Community Health (DCH).

The report uses data from a statewide telephone survey and death rates to show many members of such groups have higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sexually transmitted diseases.

Such disparities combined lead to a higher rate of premature death, the department said.

As an example, the survey cited a 13.8 percent rate of diabetes among blacks, compared to 8 percent among whites.

The DCH has declared April as Minority Health Month and is sponsoring events to educate the public about the disparities, with an emphasis on men’s health.

Marvin Cato, a consultant and program coordinator for the Greater Lansing African American Health Institute, said he became involved because he’s concerned as a black man.

“I understand the importance of men’s health and the health inequity that exists when it comes to treating minorities,” said Cato.

Jacquetta Hinton, a DCH program specialist, said there are many reasons for health disparities, including socio-economic factors such as housing, education and employment.

“People who are better-educated have access to better types of health care, as well as higher income levels. The higher your socio-economic status is, the better health outcome you have and the longer you’ll live,” Hinton said.

Environmental quality factors also affect overall health, Hinton said. She gave the example of Southeast Detroit where poor air quality impairs the health of residents.

Hinton also said cultural and language barriers make it more difficult for some ethnic and minority residents to receive medical treatment, which worsens health disparities

Patrick Jackson, a DCH program coordinator, said that many members of minority and ethnic groups mistrust health care providers because of past negative experiences.

Hinton said that the department is combating the problem on several fronts, including education.

“What we found is the more someone learns about an issue, the better they’re able to take control of it,” Hinton said.

The department is also building the capacity of local communities to close the gap, according to Jackson. For example, the DCH has given 16 grants to local organizations around the state to help them educate their communities.

Hinton said gathering information about smaller ethnic and racial groups, for which there is little data, is also important to identify their health-related problems

Hinton said that the impact of health disparities will become a larger problem if something isn’t done.

“If we have a health disparity issue where minorities are dying prematurely and living a lower quality of life health-wise, we’re decreasing our competiveness around the world,” Hinton said.

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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