Ethnicity is a complex and sensitive subject that requires greater attention in the sphere of healthcare when trying to achieve health equality for the entire population. Minority ethnic groups, in general, have poorer health outcomes compared to the general population, with reasons being many and debated. While the racial and ethnic disparities in health are well-documented, the causal mechanisms associated with them remain elusive. In order to understand the topic further, it is essential to look at the adult lifespan and the healthcare risks associated with every stage of life.
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Young adults of minority ethnicities are faced with significant challenges when seeking medical care and thus improving their physical and mental health outcomes. For example, as mentioned by Bloom and Cohen (2011), non-Hispanic white young adults were twice as likely as Hispanic young adults to have private health insurance. The lack of health insurance plays a significant part in the management of one’s well-being as the absence of financial support is integral for reaching the desired health outcomes.
Young minority adults may also lack health literacy, as reported by Blom et al. (2018) who found ethnic differences in performance-associated health literacy that is predominantly linked to the level of education. When discussing the mental health of young adults, minority populations are also experiencing tremendous disparities.
Novak, Williams-Parry, and Chen (2017) found that only after the expansion of dependent coverage within the Affordable Care Act it became possible for minority young adults with behavioral health disorders to improve their mental health outcomes. During early adulthood, individuals are subjected to significant life changes, such as the need to get an education or training to work and provide for themselves. Because of this, not enough attention is paid to health, especially in terms of mental well-being that may deteriorate due to the increased stress of adulthood.
At the mid-stage of adulthood, ethnic and racial health disparities do not leave the lives of minority groups. According to the findings of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2010), disparities in the access and the quality of care exist among Blacks, with their outcomes being 40% worse compared to Whites. Asians received worse care compared to Whites by 20% of measures while Hispanics received worse care by 60% compared with non-Hispanic Whites (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2010).
For patients at the middle stage of adulthood, disparities in receiving the desired level of healthcare are attributed to their health insurance status, the source of ongoing care, and limited English proficiency. At this stage, adults are subjected to great pressure and the increased number of responsibilities. Having children and maintaining a career to sustain a family is highly important for middle-aged individuals, which is why health may become an issue.
In conjunction with the mentioned limitations that contribute to health disparities, adults from minority populations struggle with reaching the desired level of physical and mental well-being. It is also important to note that as adults start having children, they pay more attention to the health of the latter rather than themselves.
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Older adults of ethnic and racial minorities are also challenged by disparities in the access and delivery of care. According to the research conducted by Ng et al. (2014), race and ethnicity were significantly linked with the most adverse health indicators for the older adult minority population. As mentioned by the scholars, “except for Asians, all racial/ethnic minority groups were significantly more likely than whites to report poor mental health status, presence of most health symptoms, sensory limitations, and activities-of-daily-living disability” (Ng et al., 2014, p. 239).
Therefore, with some minor exceptions, older adults of most ethnic and racial minorities are subjected to a vast range of adverse functional and health outcomes that are not assessed on a regular basis. These outcomes are linked to such limitations as bias associated with respondent recall and self-reported data.
While the challenges that the older diverse population is experiencing are identified and accepted, there is still much remaining to be done to meet the population’s needs. According to Yamada et al. (2015), the older minority population experiences health disparities due to the predictors of attitudes towards healthcare, personal beliefs, as well as perceptions of socio-demographic differences. When adults get older, they may not have the financial capability to sustain high-cost treatments.
Older minority adults are also subjected to greater health disparities because of inadequate language skills and subsequent communication with healthcare providers (de Moissac & Bowen, 2018). This is especially troubling in regards to mental health issues and emergencies when communication is paramount.
In summary, minority populations of any age experience health disparities due to their ethnic or racial status. Economic factors, as well as attitudes towards healthcare, are among the main contributors to populations’ inability to reach the desired level of physical and mental health outcomes. It is the responsibility of social workers operating in the field of healthcare, local governments, and community advocates to develop a multidisciplinary team to address the disparities minorities face.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2010). Disparities in health care quality among racial and ethnic minority groups. Web.
Blom, I., Cohen, E., Eshuis, L., Woudstra, A., Snider, M., Kunst, A., … Fransen, M. (2018). Ethnic differences in health literacy among young adults in Amsterdam. Health Literacy Research and Practice, 2(4), 192-204.
Bloom, B., & Cohen, R. (2011). Young adults seeking medical care: Do race and ethnicity matter? NCHS Data Brief, 55, 1-8.
de Moissac, D., & Bowen, S. (2018). Impact of language barriers on quality of care and patient safety for official language minority Francophones in Canada. Journal of Patient Experience, 6(1), 24-32.
Ng, J. H., Bierman, A. S., Elliott, M. N., Wilson, R. L., Xia, C., & Scholle, S. H. (2014). Beyond black and white: Race/ethnicity and health status among older adults. The American Journal of Managed Care, 20(3), 239-248.
Novak, P., Williams-Parry, K. F., & Chen, J. (2017). Racial and ethnic disparities among the remaining uninsured young adults with behavioral health disorders after the ACA expansion of dependent coverage. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 4(4), 607-614.
Yamada, T., Chen, C. C., Murata, C., Hirai, H., Ojima, T., Kondo, K., … Harris, J. R. (2015). Access disparity and health inequality of the elderly: unmet needs and delayed healthcare. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(2), 1745-1772.