Health improves for most racial groups

April 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

HHS has released a new report that shows significant improvements in the health of racial and ethnic minorities, but important disparities in health still persist.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a new report that shows significant improvements in the health of racial and ethnic minorities, but also indicates that important disparities in health persist among different populations.

The report presents national trends in race- and ethnicity-specific rates for 17 health status indicators during the 1990s. All racial and ethnic groups experienced improvements in rates for 10 of the 17 indicators. At the same time, the report also shows that despite these overall improvements, in some areas the disparities for ethnic and racial minorities remained the same or even increased.

"Our goal is to eliminate disparities in health among all population groups by 2010," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "While we are making progress, this report shows how far we still have to go."

Healthy People 2000

The report is part of Healthy People 2000, an HHS-led effort to set health goals for each decade and then measure progress toward achieving them. The indicators reflect various aspects of health and include infant mortality, teen births, prenatal care, low birthweight, heart disease, stroke, lung and breast cancers, suicide, homicide, motor vehicle crashes, and work-related injuries, as well as death rates for all causes. Infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis are also included. The percentage of children in poverty and the percentage of the population living in communities with poor air quality round out the set of measures developed to allow comparisons among national, state and local areas on a broad set of health indicators.

One of the goals of the Healthy People initiative is to reduce disparities in health. Notable progress was made in reducing the gap in syphilis case rates and stroke death rates. However, for about half of the indicators the disparities improved only slightly, and gaps actually widened substantially for work-related injury deaths, motor vehicle crash deaths and suicide.

"In many ways, Americans of all ages and in every racial and ethnic group have better health today," Surgeon General David Satcher said. "But our work isn't done until all infants have the same chance to thrive, all mothers have equal access to prenatal care, and all Americans are equally protected from cancer, heart disease and stroke."

Improvements in all indicators

All racial and ethnic groups experienced improvement in 10 of the indicators: prenatal care; infant mortality; teen births; death rates for heart disease, homicide, motor vehicle crashes and work-related injuries; tuberculosis case rate; syphilis case rate; and poor air quality. For five more indicators - total death rate and death rates for stroke, lung cancer, breast cancer and suicide - there was improvement in rates for all groups except American Indians and Alaska natives. The percentage of children under 18 years old living in poverty improved for all groups except Asians and Pacific Islanders, and the percentage of low-birthweight infants improved only for black non-Hispanics.

"A clear lesson for public health is that efforts to achieve progress for all must be targeted and tailored to the needs of specific groups," said Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which prepared the report.

Health and Human Services agencies are now working on Healthy People 2010, the nation's public health agenda for the current decade, and have identified a set of leading health indicators that are being tracked nationwide and in states and communities. While the goals of Healthy People 2000 aimed at reducing disparities, the Healthy People 2010 plan aims at the elimination of disparities in health among all population groups. PR

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