Racial/Ethnic Health Disparities Among Women in California
- Elaine Zahnd, Roberta Wyn
At a time when California is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, nearly twice as many of the state’s women of color, as a group, describe themselves as being in “fair or poor” health as white women do. The disparity is particularly pronounced among Latinas, African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native women: women of color were almost twice as likely as white women to say their health was fair or poor.
For the past twenty years, the goal of the federal government’s Healthy People program (HP 2000; HP 2010) has been to reduce and ultimately eliminate health disparities. The HP 2020 goal adds equity as a concern; specifically, the new goal is to “achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups.” As rigorously documented, inequity based on one’s racial/ethnic identity has been linked to disparities in health care access and coverage, and poorer health outcomes. In the landmark 2002 Institute of Medicine report, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care, two main factors were cited as driving the disparities: 1) People of color are subjected to adverse social determinants of health, and 2) People of color are disproportionately represented among the uninsured.
In general, women of color have worse health outcomes than white women, although rates among women of color do vary. Nationally, heart disease death rates are the highest among African-American women; cervical cancer rates among Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and Latinas are higher than among white women; and African-American women have higher infant, fetal, and perinatal mortality rates than white women.
Using data from the 2011–2012 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS 2011–12), this policy brief describes racial/ethnic health disparities among women for four main health topics: 1) health status; 2) health conditions (arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure); 3) health risk factors (smoking and obesity); and 4) health coverage and access. Because health data on Latina and Asian subgroups is often unavailable, a snapshot of their health is also highlighted.