April has been designated National Minority Health Month, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This annual campaign highlights the tremendous need, nation-wide to improve the health of racial and ethnic minorities and American Indian/Alaska Native communities and reduce health disparities.
The theme for 2023 is: Better Health Through Better Understanding which is intended to emphasize the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate healthcare services, information, and resources in promoting health equity.
The United States grew significantly more diverse over the past decade, with surges in the number of people who identify as Asian, Hispanic, or more than one race. At the same time, in the United States, just 14% of the population has proficient health literacy, 20% of people speak a language other than English, and 60% of adults place importance on visiting a health care provider who understands their culture.
Health disparities—inequities in the quality of health, health care and health outcomes experienced by groups based on social, racial, ethnic, economic and environmental characteristics—persist across the nation. They are driven largely by the social, economic, and environmental conditions where people live, learn, work, and play - factors commonly referred to as social determinants of health. Health disparities create an additional $93 billion in excess medical costs each year.
People of color, especially those with low socioeconomic status, are all disproportionately exposed to conditions, policies, and environments that may have a negative impact on their health and lead to health disparities. For example, older Black Americans are twice as likely as older White Americans to have Alzheimer's or another dementia, and 35% less likely to be formally diagnosed.
When it comes to healthy aging – a focus of HIGN – research shows that people who have higher education attainment, better jobs, or higher income tend to have better physical or cognitive function compared to those who experience socioeconomic disadvantage. The rapid aging of populations, and the rising numbers of older people living with multiple chronic conditions, highlights the need to develop policies, practices, and programs to support healthy aging for all through the life course and address health inequalities.
To achieve health equity for diverse populations, change at multiple levels (societal, community, individual) is needed. However, better understanding, as this month’s theme suggests, begins with exploration; and that can start in our interactions with one another. Better Health Through Better Understanding, is underscored by the notion that when patients are provided with culturally and linguistically appropriate information, they are empowered to create healthier outcomes for themselves and their communities.
Better Understanding begins with cross-cultural learning about a person’s health beliefs, such as what they think may have caused in illness, what kind of treatment they think they should receive, and what results they hope to gain. National Minority Health Month reminds us that it is critical that in whatever setting we live, work, or play, we commit ourselves to collaborating with one another and developing the skills to provide high quality equitable care that that can cut across literacy, culture, and language.