April is National Minority Health Month, focusing attention on common health conditions that affect minority communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines health equity as “the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” Studies have shown, however, that many inequities exist in minority communities. For this reason, certain diseases affect some communities more than others.
Diabetes, sickle cell disease, asthma, obesity, hypertension, cancer, HIV/AIDS and heart disease are among the ailments more common in communities of color, according to the CDC. There are many reasons for this — living environment, genetics, socioeconomic issues, lifestyle choices, or a combination of these factors.
Cultural and socioeconomic issues in the Hispanic community, for example, can affect overall health. Dr. Liliana Zuniga, a WellMed primary care physician in El Paso, Texas, said Hispanics tend to go to the doctor only when they feel sick. They frequently do not get regular checkups and screenings intended to prevent diseases or detect them early.
Dr. Zuniga encourages patients to get annual physicals and to have bloodwork done so she can screen for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart disease and several forms of cancer.
Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise also contribute to the obesity epidemic, she said, which can lead to other chronic health conditions. For example, traditional diets among Hispanics in the United States tend to be high in simple carbohydrates and include many fried foods.
In addition, many older adults do not get enough exercise. Chronic smoking is also a factor contributing to poor health outcomes.
Dr. Zuniga said she tries to have conversations with her patients, instead of trying to tell them what to do to live healthier.
For example, to encourage patients to exercise, she suggests that they start by walking 10 minutes per day, two to three times a day. She also advises them to take advantage of free or low-cost community resources, such as the local YMCA or senior activity center. These small steps can lead to larger positive changes in her community.
Here are some ways to encourage a healthier lifestyle:
- Eat a healthy diet. Cut down on foods with saturated fat, processed and/or sugary foods, and eat more lean protein, fruits and vegetables.
- Grow your own produce. Some communities are in “food deserts,” areas where healthier foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, are scarce.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- If you smoke, stop. Enroll in a program to help you.
- Get a yearly health checkup at your doctor’s office, and get prevention screenings.
- Educate yourself about common diseases that affect your community. You can research online or at your local library, or talk to your doctor.
- Maintain good mental health through religion, spirituality, yoga, prayer or meditation.
- Develop a community support system of friends and family.
These suggestions are in keeping with the WellMed model of care to help patients live healthier lives.
For more information, visit cdc.gov/healthequity/whatis/index.html.