Report shows race and ethnicity matter when it comes to health

When it comes to health, your race and ethnicity matter, says a recent Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky report.

A study of federal and state polling data found that multiracial and black Kentuckians tend to report higher rates of smoking, obesity, asthma and poor mental health than their white counterparts, and that black and Hispanic Kentuckians are less likely to have health insurance than white Kentuckians.

“This report helps us see how race and ethnicity make a difference in how healthy you are, just as previous Foundation reports have shown that where you live and your education and income levels affect your health status,” Susan Zepeda, outgoing president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.

Findings from the report, Health Disparities in the Commonwealth, A Report on Race and Ethnicity and Health in Kentucky, are based on federal and state Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System polling from 2011 through 2013. It is the third in a series of reports exploring health disparities in the state, with the first focusing on geographic disparities and the second on socioeconomic disparities.

The report looked at access to health care and preventive services, a variety of social and behavioral health indicators and health outcomes of Kentucky adults of different racial and ethnic groups.

Access to health care and preventive services

The report said there are “significant associations” between racial and ethnicity and access to care in Kentucky.

Lines atop bars indicate confidence intervals, or possible range
of percentages. The percentage given is the most likely one.

It found that white Kentuckians were less likely to forego medical care due to cost and Hispanics were most likely. Although, overall Kentucky adults forego medical care due to cost at a higher rate than the rest of the nation.

“Nearly 1 in 5 Kentucky adults (19.1 percent) reported that there was a time in the prior year when they needed to see a doctor but could not because of the cost,” says the report. “Access to care was considerably more limited for Hispanic adults in Kentucky, with nearly 1 in 3 adults (28.9 percent) unable to afford needed medical care.”

It also found that white Kentuckians were more likely to have a personal doctor than other races and ethnicities; and that black (25.6 percent) and Hispanic Kentuckians (34.1 percent) were less likely to have health insurance than white Kentuckians (16.7 percent).

Black Kentuckians reported they were less likely to have an annual flu shot (34.3 percent) than white Kentuckians (40.1 percent), whereas white Kentuckians were “significantly less likely” to have been tested for HIV than other racial or ethnic groups in Kentucky, 28.8 percent.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that HIV screening be provided to everyone, as part of their routine health care, unless they decline to be tested,” says the report.

Social and Behavioral Health

As for risky behaviors, except for binge drinking, Kentucky adults were more likely to smoke, be physically inactive, have limitations due to other health conditions and be overweight or obese than the rest of the nation. And these risky behaviors were higher in some racial and ethnic groups than others.

For instance, multiracial Kentuckians reported the highest rate of smoking in the state, 41.3 percent, between 2011-2013. The state’s smoking rate, 27.9 percent, was significantly higher than the nation’s rate of 19 percent. This group was also most likely to have activity limitations due to health conditions.

“Smoking increases the risk of cancer, heart disease,stroke and other chronic conditions, exacerbates asthma, and reduces overall health status,” says the report.

The report also noted that while 66.9 percent of Kentucky adults were overweight or obese, black Kentuckians were “significantly more likely” to be overweight or obese (72.9 percent) than whites (66.8 percent), Hispanics (62.8 percent) and others (51.1 percent). The national average was 63.5 percent.

“Obesity is both a chronic disease and a risk factor for other diseases,including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers,” says the report.

On a positive note, Hispanics in the state reported getting more physical activity than other Kentucky adults or the average American.

Health outcomes

Overall, Kentucky adults reported poorer health status than the national average (23.2 percent and 18.1 respectively). Although Hispanic Kentuckians reported fair or poor health at a similar rate as other Americans.

Multiracial (24.4 percent) and other race (22.6 percent) adults in Kentucky were more likely to report poor mental health than white (15 percent) or black Kentuckians (14.8 percent).

Multiracial Kentuckians also reported slightly more asthma diagnosis (27.2 percent) compared to white (14.7 percent) and black (17.1 percent) Kentuckians.

Hispanic and other race Kentuckians were slightly less likely to report having diabetes.

The report says the foundation “believes that health disparities can be eliminated, and that they must be eliminated,” and that this report helps to understand and monitor where they exist.

Zepeda said, “Understanding these disparities is an important step in enacting the policy changes and programs that can reduce and ultimately eliminate them.”

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