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I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Harmful health behaviors and experiences are significantly more likely among African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans than white fifth-graders, suggests a pioneering health disparities study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
In a study of 5,119 randomly selected public school fifth-graders (and their parents) in three U.S. cities, 20 percent of African-American fifth-graders witnessed a threat or injury with a gun compared to 11 percent of Latinos and five percent of white youngsters.
Several of the study’s 16 measures consistently suggest unhealthy experiences were more likely to occur among African-American and Hispanic American fifth-graders while therapeutic actions were more likely to happen to white peers.
For example, while white fifth-graders exercised vigorously an average of four and a half days per week, Latino youngsters exercised about 3.77 days and African-American fifth-graders vigorously exercised about three and a half days each week. All the above differences are statistically significant.
The authors assessed other unhealthy experiences including victimization by peers and unhealthy behaviors such as alcohol use. The authors evaluated other therapeutic behaviors including bike-helmet use.
The study’s 10 authors write their findings (and we quote): ‘showed striking disparities across racial and ethnic groups for a broad range of health-related behaviors, experiences, and outcomes, including obesity, vigorous exercise, witnessing of violence, seat-belt use, and self-reported health status and psychological and physical quality of life. Black children and Latino children fared worse than white children in almost every category’ (end of quote).
However, the findings suggest a counter pattern that illuminates the impact of socio-economic status on race/ethnicity and health status. For example, the authors report racial and health status differences were eliminated between Latino and white fifth-graders and reduced between African-American and white fifth-graders if one parent evidenced higher educational levels and if their families had higher incomes. In other words, the study’s racial and ethnicity differences were less significant when African-American and Hispanic-American youngsters were from higher income families and if one of their parents was better educated.
The study’s data were derived from Healthy Passages, a study of fifth-graders and their parents from 2005-2006 in Birmingham, AL, Houston, and in Los Angeles County. Both children and their parents were interviewed.
The authors note their research is one of the first comprehensive health disparities studies of pre-adolescents. The authors add one of the study’s primary contributions is (and we quote): ‘the overall pattern of disparities in our pre-adolescent sample closely resembled that for older age groups’ (end of quote).
Meanwhile, a good introduction to health disparities issues from Healthy People 2020 is provided in the ‘overviews’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s health disparities health topic page. An introduction to some of the research about the impact of health disparities on specific diseases and conditions is provided by the National Institutes of Health in the ‘start here’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s health disparities health topic page. Links to more specific examples (such as the impact of health disparities on lupus, mental health, diabetes, and oral health) are available in the ‘specific conditions’ section.
MedlinePlus.gov’s health disparities health topic page also contains links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to related clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. From the health disparities health topic page, you can sign up to receive email updates with links to new information as it becomes available on MedlinePlus.
To find MedlinePlus.gov’s health disparities health topic page, type ‘health disparities’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page, then, click on ‘Health disparities (National Library of Medicine).’ A link to health topic pages devoted to African-American health, Hispanic-American health, and Population Groups is accessible within ‘related topics’ on the right side of MedlinePlus.gov’s health disparities health topic page. MedlinePlus.gov also has a health topic page devoted to children’s health.
The topic of health disparities is of ongoing importance in medicine and public health. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities hosts a comprehensive conference featuring new health disparities research this fall and we will be interested in the findings.
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