Background Information About the Ethnicity and Health in America Series
Over the past several decades, we have seen incredible medical advances in the United States, leading to the virtual elimination of some infectious diseases and extending the average life expectancy of many Americans (Kochanek et al, 2011). Yet, despite increased knowledge of disease correlates, risk factors, and other advances in the field, drastic inequities in the health status of ethnic minorities in the United States continue to persist. In 1985, the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health (Heckler, 1985) placed a national spot light on the disparate state of health and health care among people of color and the establishment of several federal office to address the inequities highlighted in the report soon followed (both DHHS and CDC established Offices of Minority Health in the mid 1980s). Now over two decades later, health care providers have continued the fight to reduce disparities, which cut across various areas of health, including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, HIV, substance abuse and mental health.
Scientists suggest that a complex interaction of factors contribute to these disparities, not the least of which is a context of social and economic inequities that foster disparities in healthcare (IOM, 2001). Additionally, the daily exposure to institutional racism and discrimination that many ethnic minorities face creates an environment of oppression that increases the psychological burden they experience, ultimately contributing to negative health and mental health outcomes (Goode & Dunne, 2003). Importantly, research shows that modifiable psychological and behavioral factors also play a role in the maintenance of many chronic illnesses, pointing to a role for psychologists and other social scientists in the fight to eliminate health disparities.
By using advances in the social sciences, psychologists can help communities of color take control over their health. Working with these communities, psychologists can help to develop culturally appropriate interventions which support and honor community practices that are protective, while helping to change those practices that may have a negative impact on health (Bronheim & Sockalingam, 2003).
Tiffany G. Townsend, PhD
Senior Director of OEMA
2013 Ethnic Groups and Stress
- Physiological & Psychological Impact of Racism and Discrimination for African-Americans
- Exploring Family Dynamics and Stress Among Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders
2012 Health Disparities in Communities of Color
- HIV/AIDS in the African-American community
- Latino/a Mental Health
- Mental Health Among Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders