Temple Maintenance: Chronic diseases affect minorities disproportionately

Chronic diseases disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities. While many factors, such as economic, social, environmental and genetic aspects contribute to health disparities; we aren’t doing enough to fully understand the connections between the environment and disease.

African Americans

In general, African Americans have more undetected diseases, higher rates of disease and illness, more chronic conditions and shorter life expectancies than white Americans.


African-American children are five times more likely to die from asthma than white American children.

African Americans have the highest asthma attack rates of all ethnic groups and are three times more likely than whites to be hospitalized for asthma.


Next to heart disease, cancer is the leading cause of death among African Americans.

Blacks are more likely to get cancer and to die from the disease than other racial and ethnic groups.

Compared to white men, black men are 1.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer and two to three times more likely to die of the disease.


The prevalence of diabetes is 70 percent higher among African Americans as compared to white Americans.

Lead Poisoning

Black children are five times more likely than white children to have lead poisoning. Low-level exposures to lead are associated with lowered IQ, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.

One in seven black children living in older housing has elevated blood-lead levels.


Lupus affects black women three times more than white women.

Black women with lupus are more likely to have kidney problems than white women with lupus.

The death rate among black women with lupus rose by 70 percent from 1979 to 1998.


African Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be struck by sarcoidosis, a chronic disease that interferes with the functioning of vital organs, especially the lungs.

The death rate from sarcoidosis is 15-17 times higher for African Americans than for whites.



Hispanics born in the U.S. have higher cancer risks than their foreign-born Hispanic neighbors who live in the same neighborhood.


Mainland Puerto Ricans, for unknown reasons, have a higher rate of asthma compared with other Hispanic groups. The occurrence of childhood asthma is three times as high in Puerto Rican children compared with non-Hispanic white children.

In addition to having higher asthma prevalence rates, Puerto Ricans also have higher asthma death rates compared with other Hispanic groups as well as whites and non-Hispanic blacks. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Puerto Ricans had an age-adjusted annual asthma death rate of 40.9 per million, followed by Cuban-Americans (15.8 per million), and Mexican-Americans (9.2 per million). The rate of non-Hispanic whites was 14.7 per million, and non-Hispanic blacks, 38.1 per million.


Diabetes affects more than 1.2 million Hispanics/Latin Americans.

It is twice as common among Hispanics as whites.

Among Hispanics, diabetes has increased by almost 40 percent over the past 10 years.

Diabetes rates vary among different Hispanic groups.

Overall, one in five Hispanic adults over 45 is diabetic.

Among Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans over 45, one in four is diabetic.

Among Cuban Americans over 45, one in six is diabetic.

A nationwide health-tracking network is an essential step toward disease prevention

Chronic diseases are the number one killer of Americans, accounting for seven out of 10 deaths each year. While we know that the number of Americans suffering from many chronic illnesses has risen, we do not have enough information to know why.

Tracking where and when these diseases occur and their possible links to environmental factors is the first step to preventing future illnesses. A nationwide health tracking network to track chronic diseases and associated environmental factors would help provide communities and health officials with the information they need to help prevent these deadly diseases.

Congress has made a down payment on this network, providing $17.5 million in fiscal year 2002 for state-level pilot programs. A nationwide network would cost $275 million a year – less than one dollar per American, and substantially less than the $325 billion that chronic diseases cost our society each year. Preventing disease starts with better health information. A nationwide health-tracking network is common sense, cost-effective and long overdue.

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