Magazine article Working Mother

A Healthier You

Magazine article Working Mother

A Healthier You

Article excerpt

If you ask Tammie Cottom, she'll tell you her employer saved her life. Like many other African Americans, Tammie has a history of diabetes in her family. "My parents and grandparents on both sides have it," says the 48-year-old mom of two. "My father has heart issues because of diabetes, and he can no longer see or walk. We've had a number of calls from the hospital saying they didn't know if he would make it through the night."

Even so, Tammie, a vice president at Basking Ridge, NJbased Verizon, didn't always eat right and indulged in far too many cups of McDonald's sweet iced tea. Still, she was taken aback last October when, at a conference for multicultural employees, Verizon's free biometrie screenings showed she was borderline diabetic. "I knew diabetes would sneak up on me, and my heart dropped, because that was one of my biggest health fears," she says. Tammie went cold turkey on the sweet tea and Coke, and by the time she went to the doctor a week later, her blood sugar was within the normal range again. Since then, Tammie has worked to lessen her risk for diabetes by following a doctorrecommended diet and exercise plan. "I know that screening saved me from getting diabetes," she says. "I wasn't planning to go for a checkup for some months, and it would probably have been too late by then."


Tammie's diabetes was caught early because Verizon, one of this year's Best Companies for Multicultural Women, offers its employees specifically tailored biometrie screenings and workshops to take into account health disparities related to ethnicity and race. It's an important health gap that's too often ignored: The American Medical Association asserts that racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to get routine screenings, generally receive a lower quality of health care and have higher rates of morbidity and mortality than nonminorities. These disparities in health care exist even when access-related factors, such as patients' insurance and socioeconomic statuses, are controlled, according to a 2003 report from the Institute of Medicine.

At issue is the fact that too many people of color don't make use of necessary preventive and diagnostic services, with very serious consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the leading causes of death for African-American women and Latinas are heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. African Americans are about twice as likely to have diabetes as European Americans of the same age, while Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer. And even though AsianAmerican women have the highest life expectancy of any U.S. population group, cervical cancer rates are very high in certain subgroups, especially among Vietnamese women.

Yet many companies overlook these health issues when choosing employee benefit plans or designing wellness programs. A recent survey of 1,500 benefit managers by the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit membership organization that represents large employers on national health-care issues, found that nearly half of the managers believed ethnic health-care disparities "weren't a problem" for their employees, even though 80 percent had never asked minority employees if their race affected their health care. As it turns out, many multicultural employees do want their companies' health and wellness programs to take their specific needs into consideration.


In a recent Working Mother survey, sponsored by Abbott, multicultural women put access to stress management, nutrition, physical fitness and alternative medicine on the top of their wellness wish list - programs that would counter a lot of the illnesses that disproportionately affect women of color, like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

It was the 2003 Institute of Medicine paper on health disparities related to race and ethnicity that prompted Audrietta Izlar, benefits manager at Verizon, to suggest that her company start collecting health-related data based on ethnicity and race from its employees so that it could better tailor health and wellness benefits. …

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