Surgeon General Stresses Lower Risk Factors Focuses on Lifestyles, Access for Area at Health Conference

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U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher yesterday urged Northeast Florida residents and medical providers to attack some of the factors contributing to poorer health among minorities.

"In this community, I would focus on lifestyles and access," Satcher told about 150 people attending a conference on health disparities at Florida Community College at Jacksonville. "If you do that, you'll make a difference."

The conference, mainly aimed at health providers, outlined the latest information on treating various diseases disproportionately affecting minorities.

Reducing health disparities was a goal of Healthy People 2000, the nation's plan for health improvement. But the Healthy People 2010 plan he announced last year calls for eliminating them in 10 years. The plan focuses on infant mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV, AIDS and child and adult immunizations.

"It's a very ambitious goal that's going to require us to do some very ambitious things in this country," Satcher said.

Some of the disparity is caused by problems in getting appropriate health care early enough for it to make a difference, he said.

African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have no insurance -- and are less likely to have a primary-care doctor -- than whites, he said. Nearly half of all Hispanics and about 40 percent of African-Americans have no primary-care doctor to make sure they get the treatment they need.

African-American women don't have the highest incidence of getting breast cancer, but they do have the highest death rate when they develop the disease.

"We know it has a lot to do with access" to services, Satcher said.

Minorities with insurance may not have doctors where they live or who will take their insurance, he added. And recent studies showed minority patients weren't referred as often as whites for treatment for chest pains or lung cancer.

"Unfortunately, racism affects medicine just like it does every other profession," he said.

Satcher noted most people newly infected with HIV are women, children and minorities. But African-Americans are the group least likely to be receiving treatment, he said.

Lifestyle factors play a role in reducing HIV infection and other diseases in minority residents, he said. He noted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month that studies of gay, black, young men in six cities found about one in three were HIV-positive.

"That's really scary," he said.

The nation in general needs to be more open in discussing sex education while promoting abstinence and safe-sex practices, he said.

Too few people of any race or ethnic group are getting enough physical activity, he said, leading to a rise in obesity -- a marker for cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes. …