-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1966
Nalo Hamilton, PhD, RN, WHNP/ANP-BC, is an assistant professor of nursing at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Nursing; and Cheryl Woods Giscombé, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, is an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Both are Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars.
The New Year has begun and marks a time of celebration and progress, while for others it is a time of uncertainty and despair. As we pause to remember the rich contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we should also reflect on how his legacy can be used to eliminate the health care disparities that so disturbingly affect the underserved and underrepresented in our nation today.
The World Health Organization has determined that geographic locale, ethnicity, education, environmental stress, and access to a health care system are social determinants of health and health inequities. These factors are influenced by the disparate distribution of resources, wealth, and power.
In the United States:
- African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans have rates of diabetes that far exceed those in non-Hispanic whites.
- African American women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer compared to white women and have the highest rate of mortality.
- Native Americans report more alcohol consumption and binge drinking than other racial/ethnic groups.
- Hispanic males age 20 or younger have the highest prevalence of obesity compared to non-Hispanic whites and African Americans.
- African American men and women are more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than non-Hispanic whites.
- Infant mortality occurs in African Americans 1.5 to 3 times more than in other races or ethnicities.