April is National Minority Health Month, and this year’s theme is, “Accelerating Health Equity for the Nation.” The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) Program is joining the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) and other agencies and organizations to raise awareness of the health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities and to highlight efforts to close the gaps.
Health disparities are differences in health conditions and rates of chronic illness among various communities. These differences can be caused by unequal access to information, care, physical activities and nutritious foods that allow people to lead healthy lives. Some of the factors that limit access are lack of adequate education, financial investment, housing, transportation, employment and income.
Health disparities in too many communities are costly and widespread. They often have a devastating impact on the health outcomes and the prosperity of our nation. OMH reports that health disparities are linked to $50.3 billion in medical costs to treat preventable illnesses.
Dr. Booker T. Washington proposed the observance of "National Negro Health Week" over 100 years ago, in April 1915. Recognizing that health is the key to progress and equity in all other things, Dr. Washington called on local health departments, schools, churches, businesses, professional associations, and the most influential organizations in the African-American community to "pull together" and "unite… in one great National Health Movement." That movement grew into National Minority Health Month.
Most recently, the transformation of America’s health care system has accelerated efforts to improve the health status of minority populations that began with the release of the HHS Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health in 1985 and the establishment of OMH in 1986.
Here’s a snapshot of disparities within the city of Atlanta, reported in the 2015 Big Cities Health Inventory. (All mortality rates are per 100,000 people):
• The cancer mortality rate in the city’s overall population is 159, but it’s 208 for blacks compared
to 129 for whites.
o For female breast cancer, the overall rate is 26, but 35 for blacks versus 19 for whites.
o Lung cancer rates follow the same trend: a mortality rate of 38 in the overall population; but
52 for blacks compared to 29 for whites.
• While the overall diabetes mortality rate is 19, it’s nearly 37 for blacks versus 7 for whites.
• The heart disease mortality rate is 157 overall and 121 for whites, but for Atlanta’s blacks it’s 209.
• Among key health factors:
o While 25% of adults overall are obese, 35% of blacks fall into the category, versus just 15% of whites.
o A full 16% of adults in the overall population smoke, compared to 20% of blacks and 13% of whites.
• There’s one bright spot: nearly 29% of black adults in the city meet CDC recommended physical activity levels, slightly higher than the 27% rate in the overall population and almost equal to the 30% of whites who do.
PICH Program Initiatives Targeting Disparities
Reducing the existing health disparities among residents in all Fulton County communities is one of the PICH Program’s major goals. Among its strategies to accomplish this:
• PICH is funding research by Georgia State University around citizen opinions on smoking in public areas and conducting environmental tests in bars and restaurants to measure the impact of public smoking on air quality.
• PICH is funding the use of new instructional materials to implement innovative Physical Education curricula in all Fulton County elementary and middle schools.
• PICH is working with the Georgia Department of Early Care and Adult Learning (DECAL), HealthMPowers, community partners and day care center administrators within Fulton County to increase the number of early care and education providers that incorporate healthy weight protocols covering physical activity and nutrition plans into their operations.
• PICH is preparing to launch an Interfaith Active Living Initiative to help faith-based groups create or enhance walking clubs and other healthy activities that improve fitness and overall wellness.
Look for more information about the PICH Program’s work to reduce health disparities in Fulton County in the upcoming NOW Supplement inside the Atlanta Voice, available at newsstands and online April 22. Also please visit the PICH website at http://www.fultoncountyga.gov/partnership-to-improve-community-health.