By Shana Tatum RD, LD
The recent news has been filled with more and more emotion. The brutality and racial injustice continue in cities across the country. Our city has been participating in a mostly strong and peaceful way, and Houston highlighted the celebration of George Floyd’s life at his funeral this week.
It has been known for some time that disparities exist in our healthcare system. Not only in large U.S. cities like New York and Los Angeles, but here at home, too. A disparity is defined as a difference between groups, a higher percentage of people experiencing an injury or illness, disease or disability over another group.
According to the Urban Institute, Texas has the largest population of uninsured people in the country. With a population of 27 million, close to 5 million are uninsured, and many are from the black (16 percent) and American Indian (18 percent) populations. Even with the Affordable Care Act, blacks remain 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to whites. Lack of insurance can lead to a lack of preventive care. Continuity of care has been shown to reduce risk. This lack oftentimes leads to a decline in health and a rise in chronic disease.
Look at obesity, defined as abnormal or excessive fat that poses a risk to health and currently determined by the Body Mass Index. Rates of obesity in the African-American population are at 47 percent, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). High rates continue for pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes – at 63 percent of the black population. Equally as concerning is high blood pressure at 41 percent.
With the current pandemic, a recent study in Respiratory Journal noted that patients with diabetes or hypertension yielded poorer clinical outcomes from COVID-19 than those without these conditions. These disparities continue to affect our communities that are suffering from racial injustice.
And on top of these alarming statistics, food security plays a role in a person’s health. A person’s zip code may play a more significant role than their genetic code. Most people know what to eat, but if there is no access to healthy food, having the knowledge will not make much of a difference. According to the University of Houston, 17 percent of Harris County residents are food insecure. Living 1 mile or more from a supermarket means living in a food desert.
Healthy People 2020 shares these categories of social determinants of health:
- Economic stability – employment, income, medical bills and debt
- Neighborhood and physical environment – housing, transportation, parks
- Education – literacy, language, early childhood education
- Food – hunger and access to healthy options
- Community and social context – social integration and support systems
- Health care system- health coverage and provider availability
These disparities are not inevitable. They are preventable. However, they encompass large systems that require thoughtful change and close evaluation. Policy changes and citizen advocacy nationwide are needed to help reverse the negative consequences that result from these disparities.
Dr. Ezemenari Obasi from the UH HEALTH Research Institute suggests partnerships between the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Education and Department of Agriculture work synergistically to begin to remove food, health and educational disparities in our country.
But, what can we do about it?
- Advocate with city leaders for affordable healthcare and to have access to integrative health practices for black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC).
- Vote in local, state and national elections.
- Follow and share healthcare leaders from BIPOC on social media
- Invest in healthy food systems (local farmer’s markets) and the wellbeing of farmers and farm workers.
- Advocate to increase housing quality, affordability, stability and proximity to resources.
- Support opportunities for physical activity from an early age to prevent chronic illnesses and promote physical and mental health.
- Encourage community health fairs that institute culturally and linguistically appropriate screening, counseling and health care treatment for high-risk groups.
Some resources of where to volunteer or make contributions:
- Diabetes Awareness and Wellness Network (DAWN), http://www.houstontx.gov/health/Community/dawn/index.html#
- Houston Food Bank, https://www.houstonfoodbank.org/find-help/
- Texas Health Insurance, http://www.texashealthoptions.com
- Harris County Medical Society, https://www.hcms.org/tmaimis/HARRIS/Community%20Health/Community_Health_Resources.aspx
- Houston Health Foundation works to address critical public health needs impacting the Houston region’s most underserved families and children. http://houstonhealthfoundation.org/donate
- Kids Meals provides summer meals to children in the Houston area, https://www.giveffect.com/checkout/4136
- Doctors for Change Houston is a nonprofit organization working to improve access to care, https://doctorsforchange.org/donate-to-dfc/