Life expectancy and overall health have improved in recent years for most Americans, but not all Americans are benefiting equally. For too many racial and ethnic minorities, good health is elusive, because it associated with education, social and economic status, environment, access to care, and the quality of care provided.
Consider that in Cuyahoga County, over 17 percent of African-American mothers gave birth prematurely compared to 10 percent of white mothers, and nearly 14 percent gave birth to low-birth-weight babies, almost double the rate for white women. Premature and low-birth-weight babies have a higher risk of death as well as long-term disability and impaired development. The infant mortality rate (deaths within a year of birth) among babies born to African-American mothers in the county was more than twice that for white mothers.
After adjusting for age, the death rate for all residents in the county was 18 percent higher for African Americans than for whites. As in the United States, heart disease, cancer, and stroke were the leading causes of death here. The racial disparities are striking. African Americans in Cuyahoga County die from cancer at a rate 26 percent higher than whites, from heart disease at a rate 6 percent higher, and from strokes at a rate 11 percent higher. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability.
Health insurance helps people get timely access to appropriate health care. The 2003-2004 Ohio Family Health Survey found that more than one in seven working-age adults (18 to 64 years) in the county had no health insurance. The uninsured rate for working-age African Americans, however, was over 23 percent, more than double the rate for their white counterparts. The rate for African-American males was higher still.
Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health will require enhanced efforts at preventing disease, promoting health, and delivering appropriate care. It will also require new knowledge about the determinants of disease, causes of health disparities, and effective interventions for prevention and treatment. Cleveland State, with its urban mission, is in a unique position to improve the health of greater Clevelanders through education, research, and community partnerships.Video: Peter Whitt, Associate Director, discussing how the Center is working with community health workers on the state level