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Addressing Health Disparities: A Closer Look at Social Determinants and Minority Health

April is National Minority Health Month

April is National Minority Health Month and this observance builds awareness about the health disparities that persist among racial and ethnic minorities and American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations (HHS, 2024). It also encourages everyone to take action to end these inequities through awareness and health education.

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are non-medical factors that contribute to health disparities and inequities and cannot be solved by simply making healthier choices. SDOHs are often the cause of health disparities and can often be worse when people are affected by multiple. 


SDOH can be grouped in various domains including economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and environment, and social and community contexts (HHS, 2024). These SDOHs affecting the right to health are primarily experienced by racial an ethnic minorities, who often do not have access to the resources or support systems to combat these inequities, putting them at higher risks for poorer health outcomes. 


Economic Stability

Latinx people makeup a large percentage of the workforce in the United States yet earn the least amount of earnings and employee benefits compared to other minority and privileged groups (Equitable Growth, 2022). Employee benefits include paid time off and available sick days. Without these people are avoiding seeking medical attention in favor of going to work and possibly infecting others and allowing for their own conditions to worsen. Latinx people also face over-representation in labor intensive jobs, leaving them at risk of being in dangerous work environments with very little protections (Equitable Growth, 2022). 


Education Access & Quality

Higher education is often linked to increased employment opportunities and lower risk for unemployment yet in 2023, 78% of Latinx people over 25 entering the labor force had no more than a high school diploma (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023). Higher education also increases the likelihood of higher paying jobs and receiving livable wages, overall improving the chances of economic stability. 


Health Care Access & Quality

Lack of health insurance is one of the largest barriers to health, and is a prevalent issue among undocumented Latinx individuals and families. Without health insurance, people often avoid seeking medical attention until pain is unbearable or even fatal  (Healthy People 2030, n.d.). Undocumented families specifically avoid health care and even apply for insurance due to fear of deportation from being dependent on government resources. There is also often a lack of health literacy, the ability to understand and use information to make fully informed health related decisions for themself or others (Healthy People 2030, n.d.), from both patients and medical institutions. 


Neighborhood & Environment

Lack of access to healthy foods is a continuously growing issue across the country and primarily affects low income communities of color. These areas lacking access to healthy and nutrient dense foods are often referred to as “food deserts” and they often leave communities with fast food or other unhealthy options as their few choices for meals as they are typically much more affordable and accessible. Among the Latinx population, obesity and malnutrition has become a primary cause for chronic conditions such as diabetes, but is ultimately a result of lack of accessibility and resources for healthy food options (Valdez et. al., 2016).  


Social & Community Context

Experiencing discrimination and racism have been found to lead to poorer health outcomes for minority groups. Both explicit and systemic racism can become daily stressors for many, and with continuous stress comes the likelihood of health complications that can become chronic (Healthy People, 2023). Discrimination exists in various aspects of the systems we interact with, including within the other SDOH, and they work together to create these complicated barriers to health and widen the gap in disparities as well. 

By considering SDOHs when working with minorities, we can work to advance health equity and reduce health disparities among these vulnerable populations in all aspects of their lives affecting their health. 

References

Latino workers are often segregated into bad jobs, but a strong U.S. labor movement can boost job quality and U.S. economic growth. Equitable Growth. (2022, October 12). https://equitablegrowth.org/latino-workers-are-often-segregated-into-bad-jobs-but-a-strong-u-s-labor-movement-can-boost-job-quality-and-u-s-economic-growth/  

National Minority Health month 2024 toolkit. HHS.gov. (2024, April 4). https://www.hhs.gov/national-minority-health-month/toolkit/index.html  

Social Determinants of health literature summaries. Social Determinants of Health Literature Summaries - Healthy People 2030. (n.d.). https://health.gov/healthypeople/priority-areas/social-determinants-health/literature-summaries#economic  

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, January 1). Composition of the labor force. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2021/home.htm  

Valdez, Z., Ramírez, A. S., Estrada, E., Grassi, K., & Nathan, S. (2016). Community perspectives on access to and availability of healthy food in rural, low-resource, Latino communities. Preventing Chronic Disease, 13. https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd13.160250  


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