Written by: Alyssa Sevilla
Clinically reviewed by: Robert Philibert
National Minority Health Month is an important time to reflect on the health disparities experienced by minority populations, especially as they relate to heart disease. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States, African Americans and Latinos face a significantly higher risk than other groups. In fact, in 2020, African Americans and Latinos had age-adjusted death rates due to heart disease that were 22% and 20% higher, respectively, than those of non-Hispanic whites.
Social determinants of health, such as poverty, limited access to quality healthcare, and discrimination, can significantly impact health outcomes. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to live in poverty and experience discrimination, which can limit their access to healthy food options, safe spaces for physical activity, and quality healthcare. These factors, in turn, can increase their risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease.
One of the key factors contributing to these disparities is unequal access to healthcare. In the United States, minorities are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, which limits their access to preventative care services and can make it more challenging to manage chronic conditions like heart disease. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019, 11% of non-elderly African Americans and 19% of non-elderly Latinos were uninsured, compared to only 7% of non-elderly non-Hispanic whites.
In addition to disparities in healthcare access, lifestyle choicesfactors also play a significant role in heart disease disparities among minority populations. As mentioned in the original post, minority communities often have higher rates of obesity and tobacco use, which are major risk factors for heart disease. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the CDC, the prevalence of obesity was highest among non-Hispanic Black adults (38.4%) and Hispanic adults (33.8%) compared to non-Hispanic white adults (28.6%) in 2019-2020.
However, it’s important to note that systemic inequalities significantly shape lifestyle choices among minority populations. For example, minority communities are more likely to live in areas with limited access to healthy food options or safe spaces for physical activity. These “food deserts” and “activity deserts” make it more difficult for individuals to adopt healthy habits, and the stress of living in an environment with limited resources can also contribute to poorer health outcomes.
So, what can be done to address these disparities and improve heart health among minority populations? One key strategy is increasing access to preventative care services, such as regular check-ups and screenings. This can help identify potential risks early on, allowing individuals to take steps to manage their health and reduce their risk of heart disease. Additionally, initiatives to increase access to healthy food options and safe spaces for physical activity in minority communities can help make it easier for individuals to adopt healthy habits.
Another essential strategy is to address the underlying systemic inequalities that contribute to disparities in healthcare access and lifestyle choices. This could include improving economic opportunities and reducing poverty, making it easier for individuals to access quality healthcare and make healthy lifestyle choices.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services uses April of every year to observe National Minority Health Month to highlight the importance of improving the health of racial and ethnic minorities and reducing health disparities. This year’s theme focuses on improving health outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities and AI/AN communities by providing culturally and linguistically competent healthcare services, information, and resources. When patients are provided with culturally and linguistically appropriate information, they are empowered to create healthier outcomes for themselves and their communities.
Only 14 percent of the U.S. population is estimated to have proficient health literacy.¹ Nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English at home, providing another cultural barrier that can deter one’s ability to get the medical care they need.² Another factor to consider is how important it is to have healthcare providers and professionals that understand these cultural differences and have a medical team that can relate to their culture. It is estimated that over 60 percent of racial and ethnic minority patients over the age of 18 believe it is at least somewhat important to visit a healthcare provider who shares or understands their culture, providing more color as to why some patients may feel uneasy about seeking medical help.³
National Minority Health Month serves as a reminder of the significant disparities in heart disease among minority populations. While there is no single solution to these disparities, a multifaceted approach that addresses healthcare access and lifestyle choices is essential. By working together to improve access to preventative care services, healthy food options, and safe spaces for physical activity, we can help reduce the burden of heart disease among minority populations and improve health equity for all. Don’t wait; get to know your heart disease status today by investing in early-detection solutions!
- Kutner, M. (2006, September 6). The Health Literacy of America’s adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a part of the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006483
- Hernandez, S. D. and E. (2022, December 13). Nearly 68 million people spoke a language other than English at home in 2019. Census.gov. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2022/12/languages-we-speak-in-united-states.html#:~:text=Nearly%2068%20Million%20People%20Spoke,English%20at%20Home%20in%202019&text=The%20number%20of%20people%20in,recent%20U.S.%20Census%20Bureau%20report.
- National Health Statistics Reports – CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr130-508.pdf