Factors Contributing to Racial Health Disparities October 20, 2012 Word Count: 1317 Despite controlling for social economic status and education, which is one of the biggest indicators of how healthy a person may be, it still seems as though most minorities are relatively less healthy than their white counter-parts. This means that there must be other factors affecting the health of our nations minority races. This paper explores what some of these contributing factors are and how they developed.
CULTURAL & BEHAVIORAL DIFFERENCES Roberta Spalter-Roth, Terri Ann Lowenthal, and Mercedes Rubio of the American Sociological Association have concluded that “research by epidemiologists shows that African Americans are less likely than white Americans and Asian Americans to engage in preventive health practices related to diet, smoking, exercise, and use of screening tests” (2005:5). The poor diet choices often associated with minorities may be due to food deserts.
Some neighborhoods in the United States, particularly those in low-income areas, have been dubbed “food deserts” because residents do not live near supermarkets or other food retailers that carry affordable and nutritious food. Low-income residents of these neighborhoods and those who lack transportation rely more on smaller neighborhood stores that may not carry healthy foods or may offer them only at higher prices (Nuitrition Week 2010:1). Since minorities are known to have lower socioeconomic statuses (SES), even at the same education level as someone who is white, G.
Davey-Smith notes that “Some of the disparities in mortality associated with SES can be explained by lifestyle. For example, persons of lower SES are more likely to smoke, to drink to excess, and to have high-fat diets” (1996:486). One may wonder how minorities can afford to partake in risk taking behaviors when their SES is so low that it is negatively effecting their health. Health status does not come down to an individuals absolute amount of wealth but rather their relative wealth. “It is unclear why relative poverty, de? ned only in relation to the average resources available in a society and not necessarily with a lack of suf?
cient food, clothing, or shelter, is related to ill health” (McCally et al. , 1998). It appears that just being ranked lower than our peers is enough to have a negative impact on our health. Researchers have begun to show that one’s health status may also be heavily dependent on the number and quality of relationships we have with those around us (Cohen, Farley, Mason 2003:2). Communities with lower SES have lower rates of social cohesion, or quality relationships (Coleman, 1988) and individuals in lower SES groups have less social support from their community (Berkman & Breslow, 1983). RACIAL DISTRIBUTIONS & COMMUNITIES
Social relationships do not seem to thrive in low SES communities, but the lack of these high quality relationships does not fully explain the trends of lower health among certain races. Neighborhoods with high concentrations of minorities, the same neighborhoods with low self rated health statistics, also seem to have higher concentration of liquor stores and are more likely to be located in a food desert (LaVeist & Wallace Jr. , 2000). This gives minorities no other option but to eat lower quality foods, and they are more frequently exposed to risk behaviors such as drinking in their communities.
The social pressure from seeing so many of their peers engaging in risky health behaviors may be a large contributing factor to why minorities seem to develop these habits in the first place. Indicators of a low SES community such as broken windows and abandoned cars have shown to be positive predictors of the gonorrhea rates for that particular area (Cohen et al. , 2003:2). The development of communities with such a heavy concentration of low income minorities may partly be attributed to racial steering from real estate agents and living communities.
In a study put on by Julia Reade, a community affairs analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, has found that racism and geographic steering are still occurrences that minority renters must deal with when looking for a place to live. Black and Hispanic renters were lied to about the availability of certain units in areas with a higher concentration of whites. Real estate agents also editorialized, made comments about the property, properties in such a way as to attract minorities to areas with a higher concentration of minorities, also older real estate agents seemed to have a stronger white bias than younger ones.
Although this trend has been declining based on the results of a 1989 study, it still is affecting the distribution of minorities. EXCEPTIONS Although numerous studies have show that minorities tend to have a lower average health rating when compared to Whites, Hispanic women seem to have bucked this trend. They experience a very positive ranking when it comes to birth weight and health of their newborn. Researchers think that the strong community ties, mentioned earlier in relation to high health status, are what are mainly responsible for this phenomenon.
Healthy relationships with friends, family, and neighbors help to reduce the stress on the pregnant mother during neonatal development. The stress that other minorities face due to the realities of living at a low SES level are replaced by strong feelings of support and reassurance from Hispanic families. It has been noted that these effects tend to dissipate in relation to the longer that the Hispanic woman has to assimilate in American society (McGlade, Saha, and Dahlstrom 2004:10).
These finding also support the healthy-migrant theory, which suggests that only the healthiest and strongest immigrants can even make the journey to America. So the Hispanic women’s birth rates from the study could have been attributed to the fact that the women were raised in another country, which is why they lose an advantage the longer they have been in the United States. CONCLUSION The health of minorities has been noted to be lower that that of whites in the United States even when studies have controlled for factors such as SES and education.
The main contributing factors to these surprising trends are a higher participation in risk behaviors such as smoking and drinking in excess, living in food deserts or locations without easy access to healthy foods, social pressures, lack of strong community ties/relationships, geographic steering, and racial housing discrimination. Although it would be predicted that Hispanic women would also fall into this category, they actually buck the trend in the opposite direction and have shown to have surprisingly positive results when it comes to birth health. REFERENCES
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