Health disparities are a persistent issue facing America that is causing lingering pains. The term health disparities refer to differences in the health status or health outcomes between certain population groups in the United States. These disparities are often related to race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic location, gender, or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, these disparities in health continue to persist despite many decades of effort to address the root causes of these inequalities.
One of the most significant health disparities in America is the life expectancy difference between various groups. According to the CDC, the average life expectancy in the United States decreased slightly between 2016 and 2017, and life expectancy is still lower for African Americans compared to other racial groups. For example, in 2017, the life expectancy at birth for African Americans was 72.3 years, while whites were 76.1 years. These disparities in life expectancy reflect a set of underlying systemic conditions, including poverty, inadequate access to healthcare, limited educational and job opportunities, and environmental factors such as air pollution, and lack of safe places to exercise.
Another question of health equity is obesity rates in America. The prevalence of obesity among adults in the United States has steadily increased over the past several decades, leading to a rise in associated chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. However, the rates of obesity are significantly higher in underserved communities compared to the general population. That is because of limited access to healthy foods, opportunities for physical activity, and lack of nutritional education.
Access to mental health care is another significant concern. There is also a disparity in the number of black and brown people who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. However, only one in three people from minority groups who suffer from such conditions visit healthcare providers. That is because these people are often not aware of the psychological resources they have. Furthermore, few seek help due to high stigma and discrimination.
The lingering pains of health disparities in America cannot be overlooked. Disparities in system infrastructures, such as access to healthcare, quality education, economic stability, and safe communities, continue to perpetuate these persistent health inequities. Thus understanding the barriers to equitable healthcare is fundamental to addressing health disparities in America. Advancing health equity requires a concerted and sustained effort across all levels of government, communities, and individuals. Improving access to health care and education, expanding social protection initiatives for the disadvantaged, addressing economic and environmental factors that influence health outcomes, and reducing systemic racism will be essential steps to creating a more equitable, and healthier nation.