In 2002, April was designated as Minority Health Month to increase awareness about health disparities that exist for people of color. Even though April 2014 Minority Health Month is now past, we must continue to address health disparities head on every month of the year.
Health disparities exist when certain segments of the population have higher rates of preventable diseases and mortality. Many populations are affected by disparities, including racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas, women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
In a recent report to the MN legislature on health equity, the MN Department of Health stated that although Minnesota is deemed one of the healthiest states, African Americans and American Indians in the state have continued to experience higher rates of preventable disease as well as reduced life expectancy. Historical and structural racism continues to place barriers that affect opportunities for African Americans and American Indians that in the long term lead to poor health outcomes
The United States Department of Health and Human Services has an initiative called Healthy People 2020 that promotes health equity, “the highest level of health for all people.” In order to achieve health equity, the social determinants of health must be addressed.
A wide range of personal, social, economic, and environmental factors contribute to health. For example, people with a quality education, stable employment, safe neighborhoods, and access to preventive health services tend to have greater health outcomes throughout their live spans.
The leading social determinant of good health outcomes is achieving a high school diploma. Graduation rates for Whites in MN are close to 80 percent, while rates for African Americans are 51 percent and for American Indians 41 percent. In order to reduce health disparities, the social inequities that lead to historical and current-day discrimination and racism must be addressed.
Everyone must be valued equally, including people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion, culture or socioeconomic status; education, gender or age; mental health; cognitive, sensory or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.
The quest for health equity should begin at infancy and extend across the life span. The conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work and age can have the most significant influence on health outcomes.
During early and middle childhood, the physical, cognitive and social-emotional foundation for lifelong health, learning and well-being is established. A history of exposure to adverse experiences in childhood, including exposure to violence and maltreatment, is associated with increased risks for obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, heart disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and attempted suicide later in life.
There are many environmental hazards ranging from toxic exposure to lead paint to living in dangerous and violent neighborhoods that can impact the health and development of children. Communities need to join the quest for health and challenge those who make policies and laws to stand with you.
Deirdre Annice Golden, Ph.D., LP, is director of Behavioral Health for NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center Behavioral Health Clinic, 1313 Penn Ave. N. She welcomes reader responses to Deirdre.Golden@co.hennepin.mn.us, or call 612-543-2705.