Get the facts on minority health

Our race and ethnicity play a significant role in determining our risk for certain health conditions and life expectancy. Minorities, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans, often have additional risk factors researchers have linked to receiving less preventive care. It is never too late to take the first step in learning more about risks factors and improve your health.

Let’s take a look at a few key common health conditions among minorities:

1. Heart disease. Minorities are at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than Caucasians. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for all American men and women, African Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease.

While the reason for this isn’t certain, many in this group – including Hispanic Americans – have uncontrolled high blood pressure, which significantly increases a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.

Checking your blood pressure regularly and taking steps to maintain normal blood pressure (120/80 mmHg or less) are key ways to reduce your risk.

2. Cancer. Minorities experience higher rates of cancer, and researchers associate that higher risk with a lack of access to preventive health care, including cancer screenings.

African Americans have the highest death rate among ethnic groups in the U.S. for most types of cancer.

Cancer is also a leading cause of death among Hispanic Americans, accounting for more than 20 percent of all deaths. Cancer risk among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders is similar to that of Hispanic Americans.

To help reduce your risk of developing cancer, it’s important to practice healthy lifestyle habits. But the most important thing you can do is to have regular checkups, along with age-appropriate screenings, such as mammograms, Pap smears, and colonoscopies.

3. Stroke. A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is decreased due to a blockage or a blood clot that prevents the flow of oxygen to the brain. The leading cause of stroke is high blood pressure. When the pressure in the arteries is too high, it creates conditions for the arteries to burst or clog more easily.

While African Americans are most likely to have high blood pressure, they are 50 percent more likely to have a stroke. Hispanic Americans are also at an increased risk for stroke with roughly one in four having high blood pressure.

Some preventive measures for stroke include controlling high blood pressure, eating a healthy diet, stopping tobacco use, managing diabetes, and exercising.

4. Diabetes. All minorities have a higher risk of developing diabetes. Minority groups are also at a higher risk of developing serious complications of the disease, including limb amputations, retinopathy, and kidney failure.

According to the American Diabetes Association, among most minority groups, 14.5 percent of American Indians, 12.1 percent of African Americans, 11.8 percent of Hispanic Americans, and 9.5 percent of Asian Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes. Additionally, African Americans are 3.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with end-stage renal disease.

To limit your risk of developing diabetes and further complications, aim to exercise regularly, eat less fat and fewer calories, and maintain a healthy weight.

5. Obesity. Obesity is a common, serious, and chronic disease associated with increased risk for several health conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and increased risk of severe illness. A body mass index (BMI) of 25 is overweight while a BMI of 30 is considered obese. Over 42 percent of the adult population in America is considered obese. African Americans have the highest prevalence of obesity at 49.6 percent, followed by Hispanic Americans at 44.8 percent and Caucasians at 42.2 percent.

The good news is obesity can be managed. Those who are overweight or obese can make lifestyle changes today by eating a healthier diet and incorporating exercise into their daily routine. Consider working with a physician to determine if you have any underlying causes – such as endocrine issues – and discuss any concerns.

Have you marked your annual checkup off this year’s to-do list? If not, schedule one today! Find a doctor here.