Wagner, Cynthia G., The Futurist
Disparities in health status among groups lead to new research focus.
A new National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities has been added to the roster of specialized research centers of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The new center will focus on research, training, and disseminating information about minority health conditions and about disparities in health status and access to health services.
"While the diversity of the American population is one of the nation's greatest assets, one of its greatest challenges is reducing the profound disparity in health status of America's racial and ethnic minorities, Appalachian residents, and other similar groups, compared to the population as a whole," says John Ruffin, the new center's director. Ruffin served as NIH's first associate director for research on minority health.
Among the health problems that may hit minority populations harder are AIDS, cancer, diabetes, infant mortality, and cardiovascular diseases, Ruffin points out. "The NIH has made health disparities a budget priority and an area of emphasis," he says.
Health research is another area where disparities have emerged, and the center will partner with other NIH institutes and centers to support research programs that study health disparities.
Minority health is a growing concern because, despite improvements in the health of the U.S. population as a whole over the past two decades, "there continue to be striking disparities in the burden of illness and death experienced by African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Asians, and Pacific Islanders," Ruffin reports.
Moreover, minority populations are increasing faster than the rest of the population in the United States. Overall, population growth in the United States is occurring largely because of immigration, which over the past decade has added more citizens to Latino and Asian minority groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one-third of the foreign-born population come from Mexico or Central American countries, and about one-fourth are from Asian countries. About 10% of the total U.S. population are foreign born--a total of more than 28 million people in 2000. By 2030, racial and ethnic minorities are projected to represent nearly 40% of the total U.S. population.
Health disparities may emerge as a consequence of differences in such factors as education and income levels. According to the Census Bureau, 67% of the foreign-born population are high-school graduates, compared with 87% of natives. And 36% of foreign-born full-time workers earned less than $20,000 in 1999, compared with just 21% of their native counterparts. …