Latino Health Disparities

What are Health Disparities?

A health disparity is a difference in health that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantages. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have consistently experienced social and economic obstacles to health and/or factors that influence health based on their ethnic group, gender, age, disabilities, gender identity, geographic location or other characteristics.

Health disparities don't only harm the individuals and communities that experience them, they hurt the whole nation.

Latinos and Diabetes

In a recent poll released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR nearly one in five Latinos, the highest percentage for the survey, said that diabetes was the biggest health issue for them in their families. The second highest health concern for those polled, was cancer, sited by 5% of survey participants. These concerns are echoed in our Healthy Communities Program as multiple sites are addressing ways to better nutritional intake and increase the amount of exercise community members get while raising awareness on how to manage and prevent diabetes. Take steps in the New Year to turn your health around and combat diabetes for yourself and your family. Changing dietary and exercise habits have been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes! Going for a walk or doing easy exercises are small steps you can take to increase physical activity. Choose few of these improvements as your New Year's Resolution and share these healthy living tips with your friends and family! Most perplexingly, diabetes is greatly impacting Latino children at higher rates. A Latino child born today has a 50% chance of developing diabetes in his/her lifetime due to main risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity.

Nutrition Fact Sheet

Nutrition Chart

Where You Live Matters

Achieving good health relies on more than just visiting a doctor when you feel ill. The conditions of your surrounding during your day-to-day life have a profound impact on your health.

Healthy neighborhoods make it easier for community members to be healthy:

  • 1/5 of asthma cases are linked to mold and moisture in the home
  • Neighborhoods with consistently high levels of community violence make it hard for children and other community members to be physically active
  • Some families, especially the working poor, struggle to maintain a steady diet of nutritious food due to a variety of factors, including cost and availability. ~15% of American households were food insecure and unable to provide food for their families in 2008.

The conditions of the communities where you are born, grow, work, live and age play a large role in the development of health inequalities. To improve the health of communities, issues such as housing, education, workplace, environment, recreational opportunities and transportation, amongst others, must be addressed.

Some influences on health that you can work to better include the availability of and access to:

  • Nutritious Food
  • Decent housing
  • Safe workplaces and homes
  • Walkable neighborhoods
  • Safe places for Physical Activity
  • Affordable, reliable public transportation
  • Clean water and air

In Your Home

  • If you live in an older home, check to make sure that you do not have lead-based paint. Lead exposure in children ages 1-5 affects brain and nervous system development, potentially leading to cognitive impairments and learning disabilities.
  • 4 million emergency department visits and 70,000 hospitalizations every year are due to accidents in the home. Systems such as your heating unit or smoke detectors need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are functioning correctly.

In Your Workplace

Work-related injury and illness contribute to poor health and are experienced more often by low-income populations, ethnic minorities and other underserved groups.

  • Only 33% of low-wage jobs provide paid sick leave compared to 81% of high-wage jobs, discouraging low-income populations from seeking health care.
  • Lower income workers are more likely to be exposed to noxious chemicals and physical hazards such as noise, heat, heavy lifting, long work hours and stable shift assignments, putting them at greater risk for injury.
  • People living and working in rural areas are more likely to do agricultural work, and face a higher risk of illness and death from pesticide. Their children are also put in danger as workers bring pesticides home on their clothing.
  • Farm workers are also exposed to high rates of antibiotic resistant bacteria due to consistent use of low-level antibiotics on livestock. Visit our Super Madres Against Super Bugs Campaign page to see what LULAC is doing to address this issue!
  • Hispanic workers face the highest rates of fatal work injuries. 3.7 out of every 100,000 full-time latino workers suffer a fatal illness.

In Your School System

  • Public school students in low-income areas spend 2/3 less time on the playground as public school students in wealthier neighborhoods.
  • From 2004 to 2005, 94% of school meals did not meet minimum nutritonal guidelines and were unhealthy.
  • ~43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of their home meet the recommendation for physical activity. People in less walkable areas see that percentage decrease to 27%!

Health Disparities and the Health Care System

Spending on health care by patients, providers, employers and the government totals more than $2.5 trillion annually. This number is projected to increase every year. Racial minorities and other vulnerable populations suffer a disproportionate burden of disease. These groups of people suffer from poorer health outcomes due to disparities in accessing health insurance coverage, quality care, and other factors. Due to these barriers to care, these groups must face higher health costs, increased number of missed work days due to illness and lower household income. In 2009 alone, health disparities amongst African Americans and Hispanics the health care system an addition $5.1 billion. This number is expected to rise to an astounding $65 billion within the decade as the number of Latinos and African Americans in the United States increases and these disparities persist.

As the United States population gets more and more diverse, these disparities impose an increasing impact on the nation as a whole. It is important that we address access to preventative care, and care that is linguistically and culturally competent so that we can reverse this trend.

How does the Health Care System contribute to Disparities?

The health care in the United States is among the best in the world, as long as you can access it. Quality, affordable health care and preventative services are not consistently available across the country. Some areas in the United States have a shortage of doctors, or community members may find that they face language barriers and poor health literacy. Addressing access to culturally and linguistically competent health care is a key part of addressing health disparities as a whole. Disparities in health care exacerbate other health concerns. Managing a chronic illness, such as diabetes or asthma, for example, becomes much harder when you don't have access to a doctor or the medications needed are too expensive.

How Can We Improve Access to Care.

Expand Insurance Coverage

The majority of the uninsured population in the United States is made up of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income communities and other vulnerable groups.

  • Individuals who have not graduated high school or earn less than $25,000 a year are significantly less likely to have insurance coverage. In 2009, 27% of people with annual incomes less than $25,000 had no health insurance coverage.
  • Hispanics are three times less likely to have health care coverage.

Health Care Costs need to be Reduced

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act 10.2 million Latinos had access to health insurance coverage. Unfortunately just having coverage isn't enough. High costs associated with out-of-pocket expenses, such as copayments (copay), monthly premiums, and deductibles still act as barriers to getting care.

For low-income individuals and the elderly, choosing between getting the medical attention they need or buying prescriptions is still a balancing act with paying for other living expenses such as rent and food.

Addressing Health Care Workforce Shortages

There is a critical shortage of health care providers, especially the most needed primary care physicians, serving in rural areas and in the inner city. This directly impacts the Latino community as that is where most of our community resides. In fact, there are almost 14,000 areas across the United States with shortages in personnel for primary medical care, dental care or mental health care!

Increase the Quality of Care

The United States is known for the quality of its health care, but the quality of care is useless if physicians are unable to connect with their patients to provide those services. Culturally and linguistically competent health care is especially important for the Latino community as it enables health care providers to better diagnose and treat patients with Latino heritage.

The most important step that can be taken to better care is to ensure that there is effective communication between health care professionals and their patients. Language barriers must be broken down, either through interpreting services or the diversification of the health care workforce so that all patients can understand their diagnosis and the steps that need to be taken to address their situation.

The diversification of the workforce is especially important as health providers who reflect and share similar experiences as the patients they serve can better meet their needs. Not only should we work together to empower minority students so that they have the information and resources necessary to strive for health-focused professions, but we must work together to ensure that all students have the training necessary to provide culturally competent care.

Minor changes in how health professionals engage with their patients can have dramatic effects on how Latinos perceive medical and public health institutions. Steps must be taken to address the trend of Latinos being less likely to trust their health providers.

Take Action Now to Better Your Community

There are events happening nationwide in honor of National Minority Health Month. Take some time out of your busy schedule to go to an event organized around disparity that uniquely or disproportionately affects your community or state. Click here to find an event near you.

Read the advocacy toolkit below or download the pdf version by clicking on the link. Lets work together this April to ensure that our communities are Healthy Communities!

Source: "National Minority Health Month - The Office of Minority Health." .
              US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health