Disparities in minority health hurts all

Opinion

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As April and "National Minority Health Month" has come to an end, we should reflect upon what minority health means, and, more importantly, why there is a National Minority Health Month in the first place.

First of all, minority health, by definition, refers to the health of American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander populations in the United States. These groups, according to the last census, make up approximately 30 percent of our country's population and one fourth of Oak Park's population. They make up large portions of our population and thus contribute largely to our society.

Unfortunately, these populations also bear a larger burden of death, disease and injury than their non-minority counterparts. American Indians have the highest rate of cardiovascular diseases in the country, while African Americans suffer from the highest prevalence of hypertension and high cholesterol. Adults in Asian and Hispanic communities are more likely to report poor health than any other group.

These gaps in health status can result in a lower quality of life, loss of economic and job opportunities and social inequity for these groups. As these populations continue to grow these health conditions will take a larger toll on society as a whole.

The point of National Minority Health Month is to recognize that these disparities do exist, despite the strides that we have made in terms of social equality, even in progressive communities such as Oak Park. Why they exist is a more complicated issue and needs to be tackled on several different levels.

While education is important, it is not sufficient to bring about the level of change necessary. Cultural barriers, beliefs and fears need to be addressed; lack of recreation facilities and healthy food establishments in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods need to be remedied; community organizations need to work to increase access to health care, especially to preventive services; and the health care system needs to be changed on the whole. But the list does not end there.

Thankfully, several organizations are working towards eliminating these disparities. Health departments, such as the Oak Park Health Department, are increasingly focused on assessing and addressing the factors that lead to these inequities.

As we go through the rest of the year and observe other awareness campaigns such as Teen Pregnancy Prevention, Asthma and Allergy Awareness and Mental Health Awareness, we should keep in mind that all of these issues will affect us or someone we know, but that certain groups of people will be affected more than others. We should realize that there are severe consequences to the overall health?#34;economically, physically and socially?#34;of our society if we let these disparities go unresolved.

Georgeen Polyak
Oak Park Public Health director

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