How racial, social and economic disparities impact health

June 9, 2020

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and unrest caused by the police killing of George Floyd have thrown this fact into stark relief, according to a new report.

Social and economic inequities have a large impact on health disparities, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest over the police killing of George Floyd have made painfully obvious that racial inequities impact the health and wellbeing of people and their communities, this has been an accepted fact. Despite that, the disparities in health and healthcare have persisted and widened in some cases, according to the analysis.

Black and American Indian or Alaska Native (AIAN) people are still faring worse than white people in most area of health status, including physical and mental health, birth risks, infant mortality rates, HIV and AIDS diagnosis and death rates, and the prevalence of and death rates due to certain chronic conditions, the analysis found.

Specifically, black and AIAN people have an infant mortality rate nearly twice that of white people, while black teens and adults are have a nearly eight times higher HIV diagnosis rate and a nearly ten times higher AIDS diagnosis rate than whites. Meanwhile, HIV and AIDS diagnosis rates for Hispanics are more than three times higher than that of whites, according to the analysis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has mirrored and compounded the underlying racial/ethnic disparities in health as the majority of states reporting that black people account for a higher share of COVID-19 deaths and cases when compared to their share of the population. This is also true when it comes to Hispanics in some states, while AIAN, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander people have been disproportionately impacted by the disease, the analysis says.

The analysis also found that the ensuing economic crisis has also had an inordinately negative impact on people of color.

Social determinants of health – like socioeconomics, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, social support networks, and access to health – have proven to be primary drivers of health and there are actions that can be taken by the healthcare industry to help address disparities. These include: expanding Medicaid, increasing access to healthcare, increasing access to linguistically and culturally appropriate care, according to the analysis.