Huge Racial Disparities in Health in the US, says CDC Report

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a very sobering report yesterday about racial disparities in health problems in the U.S. Your income, your race and ethnicity, your gender, and other social factors, all have an impact on whether you are healthy or sick, and on whether or not you will die prematurely.  

While it is, unfortunately, not news to hear that income and level of education are important factors in determining our health, the report has some surprises: Those more likely to die from drug overdoses are white people, over those in other ethnic groups. And binge drinking is up among those with better education and higher incomes.

The CDC’s report covers disparities at the national level in: access to health care access, exposure to environmental hazards, mortality, morbidity, behavioral risk factors, disability status and social determinants of health. 

Here are some key points from the 22 essays in the report, from a CDC press release, with my emphases in boldface:

  • In 2007, non-Hispanic white men (21.5 per 100,000 population) were two to three times more likely to die in motor vehicle crashes than were non-Hispanic white women (8.8 per 100,000). The gender difference was similar in other race/ethnic groups.

  • In 2007, men (18.4 per 100,000) of all ages and races/ethnicities were approximately four times more likely to die by suicide than females (4.8 per 100,000).

  • In 2007, rates of drug-induced deaths were highest among non-Hispanic whites (15.1 per 100,000) and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islanders (2.0 per 100,000).

  • Hypertension is by far most prevalent among non-Hispanic blacks (42 percent vs. 29 percent among whites), while levels of control are lowest for Mexican-Americans (31.8 percent versus 46.5 percent among non-Hispanic whites).

  • Rates of preventable hospitalizations increase as incomes decrease. Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicate that eliminating these disparities would prevent approximately 1 million hospitalizations and save $6.7 billion in health care costs each year.

  • Rates of adolescent pregnancy and childbirth have been falling or holding steady for all racial/ethnic minorities in all age groups. However, in 2008, disparities persist as birth rates for Hispanic adolescents (77.4 per 1,000 females) and non-Hispanic black adolescents (62.9 per 1,000 females) were three and 2.5 times those of whites (26.7 per 1,000 females), respectively.

  • In 2009, the prevalence of binge drinking was higher in groups with incomes of $50,000 or above (18.5 percent) compared to those with incomes of $15,000 or less (12.1 percent); and in college graduates (17.4 percent), compared to those with less than high school education (12.5 percent). However, people who binge drink and have less than $15,000 income binge drink more frequently (4.9 versus 3.6 episodes) and, when they do binge drink, drink more heavily (7.1 versus 6.5 drinks).

As the director of the CDC, Thomas R. Frieden is quoted in the January 13th New York Times: “‘Some of the figures, like the suicide rate for young American Indians, are just heartbreaking.’” Young American Indian adults have the highest suicide rates among ethnic groups, 25 per 100,000 population at age 21; for whites it is 14 per 100,000 population, 10 for blacks and 8 for Asians and Hispanics.

You can download the full report from the CDC, ‘CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2011′ (PDF file). 

The report notes that, from 1980–2000, the U.S. population became older and more ethnically diverse—and, from 1992–2005, household income inequality increased. While not going into too much detail about the disparities documented in the report, the CDC does state that, 

“Because vulnerable populations are more likely than others to be affected adversely by economic recession, the recent downturn in the global economy might worsen health disparities throughout the United States if the coverage and effectiveness of safety-net and targeted programs do not keep pace with needs”

Very sobering and a real call for ‘health equity’ in the U.S. Is it a surprise to anyone that those without health insurance lead sicker, shorter lives?

Photo by jakebwotha.


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

This is not new!

Those of us trying to stop the insane drug war in the U.S./prison incarceration, have known for some time, that whites do more drugs, yet more blacks are incarcerated for it. The other medical facts RE: race, such as hypertension, have been long known. May be some DNA glitch; yet also if poor, one can only afford high carbohydrates, which is why whites complain that poor black women and children are fat, so they MUST have enough money for food. They don't! They barely have enough money for cheap carbs, such as white bread, chips, crackers. No protein. I'm off and running on a different bent, so I'll shut up now.

Antoinette Reyes
Antoinette R7 years ago

aww i wish i could put this as a favorite but sadly do not have the option

Mary L.
Mary L7 years ago

Huge racial disparities in health follow naturally from a system that discriminates in employment which provides for most of the health insurance (and therefore, health care). In turn employment depends on quality education and stable living arrangements. All along the line minorities face discrimination. Until health care, education, housing, transportation, jobs, and wages are equally available, disparities will persist. It's a big job but some countries have done it! It's not about blame; it's about getting everyone into the game!

Lindsey DTSW
.7 years ago

Charlene, many of us have, in fact, done that 'dirty work' you claim only immigrants will do.

When it was the only job I could find, I worked for minimum wage in a 7/11 on the night shift, washing floors, washing windows, sweeping the parking lot, cleaning out the coolers, etc. I've done domestic cleaning to make extra money in my younger days. Even in my current job, as a paralegal to a sole practitioner, I still have to do cleaning in the office (since we can't afford a cleaning service). And scrubbing the toilets or washing the floors doesn't harm me a particle.

Even some of those of us who grew up in privileged circumstances (as I definitely did) are willing to do any honest work when we need the money to support ourselves. You might be surprised to learn how many of those you would consider to have non-liberal leanings on many subjects have actually known real poverty in their lives.

john hall
john hall7 years ago

Charlene , let's see i dropped out of high school , joined the marine corps , got out and i work for a asphalt co . until the late 90's i was working 2jobs to support my family.i still work for a aspalt co , iam lower middle class . i dont make excuses . being poor does not mean your intitled to anything and being poor is no excuse for eating poorly.there are alot of people out here who are hurting and i feel for them .

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush7 years ago

To john hall: Hopefully, if you reread your comment 3 or 4 times, you might discover how idiotic it sounds.

Obviously, you have never really, known poor people. My suggestion to you is, to spend 1 month with a hard working poor family. I'm not talking about welfare recipients; I'm talking about a family whose members work a 40 hour week and still can't make ends meet.

Contrary to what you may think, everyone is not born with a high I.Q. If everyone had a high I.Q., not our country, nor any other, could survive. I'm sorry to say, but the working poor keep us in business. They do the work that you and many like you, won't do.

One of the reasons for our success, is the immigration situation. The last group in, does the dirty work, that no one else will do, like it or not. Once, the last group becomes educated, it is imperitive that another group of immigrants, enter our society and perform the work of the last group.

That's how it works. That's how it's always worked.

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush7 years ago

To Past Member: People might find you more credible, if you stuck to factual comments.

Under President Obama's healthcare plan, no one will be rationing ANYTHING, and what is this with 'bean counters'? This must be a new Tea Party idea. Where did you get the idea that some doctor, will decide what treatments you can have and how often?

Oh, I get it now. You think things will stay the same as they are, presently. Gee, you must be terribly confused.

If everyone has to have healthcare insurance, that must mean that everyone will be responsible for themself. I thought that is what you conservatives wanted.
Mayabe, you like paying for the uninsured to go to Emergency Rooms, which costs everyone more money.

By the way, WHERE is this healthcare reform, from the GOP? They have had _years_ to introduce a bill. Talking about having a plan and HAVING a plan are two different things. Possibly, someone lost it!

Chloe M.
Chloe M7 years ago

I took a class about vulnerable populations in the spring of last year for my nursing degree. none of this information is new. what we should be doing instead is trying to figure out how to not let this happen to people. imagine if most of the US was like this, living in the way of "poor folks"? with the way the economy is now, that could be anyone. I don't see a pretty picture ahead. Maybe I should go buy some rose colored glasses.

Girl U.
.7 years ago

Thank you for the article.

Anna I.
Anna Ilkka7 years ago

Past Member, why do you support Medical Bankruptcy? Not so long ago, it was the only medical emergency plan in the USA.