The following article was written by St. Louis County Public Health Nurse Josh Gorham. It was originally published in the Duluth Budgeteer on April 10, 2016.
This past week has been National Public Health Week. It’s a time to raise awareness of the work of Public Health professionals and talk about the most challenging public health issue of the 21st century.
Your health is determined by a variety of factors: genetics, personal habits, access to quality and timely healthcare, and the environments in which you live, work and play. Think of environment in a broad sense; it could be the air in your home, the water you drink, access to goods and services such as food or healthcare, and even access/opportunity to living wage jobs.
Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health, has recognized that although Minnesota is one of the healthiest states in the nation, we also have some of the largest differences in health outcomes by income, race, sexual-orientation, and mental health status.
Here are some facts from the Minnesota Department of Health’s 2014 “Advancing Health Equity” report to the legislature that highlight the disparity in health among specific populations:
- African American and American Indian babies die in the first year of life at twice the rate of white babies. While infant mortality rates for all groups have declined, the disparity in rates has existed for over 20 years.
- American Indian, Hispanic/Latino, and African American youth have the highest rates of obesity.
- Intimate partner violence affects 11 to 24 percent of high school seniors, with the highest rates among American Indian, African American and Hispanic/Latino students.
- Gay, lesbian and bisexual university students are more likely than their heterosexual peers to have struggles with their mental health.
- Persons with serious and persistent mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general public.
The root cause of these differences in health outcomes among populations is likely found in differences in economic and social conditions, which are strong predictors of health. Consider the following facts, also found in the Minnesota Department of Health’s report, which correlate with different health outcomes for various populations:
- Poverty rates for children under 18 in Minnesota are twice as high for Asian children, three times as high for Hispanic/Latino children, four times as high for American Indian children, and nearly five times as high for African American children as for white children.
- Unemployment is highest among populations of color, American Indians, and people who live in rural Minnesota.
- African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos in Minnesota have less than half the per-capita income of the white population.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth are at increased risk for bullying, teasing, harassment, physical assault, and suicide-related behaviors compared to other students.
- Low-income students are more likely to experience residential instability.