How Health Disparities Are Discovered

One of the most surefire indicators of the presence of a health disparity is through statistical evidence. Throughout history, epidemiological processes have been used to document phenomena within the community. For example, Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini discovered that nuns developed breast cancer at a higher rate than other women (Gibbons, 2005). This was one of the first ever recorded studies of what is now considered a health disparity.

Health disparities affect all defined racial and economic groups. Researchers can identify health disparities between these groups through a variety of different ways. Researchers can compare the findings of a group to the general population, the majority population, or to another specific group (Adler, 2006). Identifying the differences in data between populations can show evidence of a disparity. When results are consistent across multiple studies of similarity, it can show that what might have been considered a coincidence of the studied population is now possibly a systemic issue.

There are many types of classifications within the umbrella terms of “race” and “class”. When speaking about class, groups are labeled based on their income or assets. More affluent populations may be labeled as “upper class” or “upper middle class” while less affluent populations are labeled “lower middle class” or “working class”. As of 2014, a three-person family making between $126,000 and $188,000 would be considered upper middle class, anything above that being rich. A three-person family making between $42,000 and $126,000 to be considered middle class, and anything below that threshold would be considered lower or working class (Pew Research Center, 2015).While economic classifications may be more inclusive, some classifications may not be as accurate to describe groups of people.

The classification of racial or ethnic groups is a controversial one. With diasporas, colonization, and resettlements, the definition of identity and race have become blurred. Race encapsulates multiple ethnicities in umbrella terms such as white, black, brown and the like. Within these umbrella terms, we find ethnic groups such as African, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and so on. Within these ethnic groups, there can be an increased specificity such as tribes or region, like Tutsis or Hutus in Rwanda. However, these classifications tend to be arbitrary products of social constructs. While populations may have certain characteristics in common, this is really only a product of heritage. Otherwise, there is no specific genome that defines a race.

The first method of discovering a health disparity is by comparing a specific group to the general population. An example of this would be comparing the poverty rates of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives to the general United State Population. It has been found that over a quarter of Native Americans and Alaska Natives are living in poverty, more than double that of the general population (Sarche & Spicer, 2008) . By comparing specific groups to an entire population, researchers can identify groups that have a lower quality of life than most of the country. Using this information, researchers can look at lifestyle, current policies, and historical treatment of said group to understand how this health disparity came to be.

The second method of discovering a health disparity is by comparing the findings of a specific group to the majority population. According to the Pew Research Center, lower-income families make up nearly 30% of the United States population while the middle class is over half the population. Unfortunately, there is an association between income and health (CDC, 2011). Nearly one-third of the United States population has lower health outcomes compared to the majority, which is the middle class. This can show evidence of a neglected section of the population which resources need to be allocated to in order to form more affluent sections.

The final method of discovering a health disparity is by comparing the findings of a specific group to another specific group. An example of this can be comparing the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes in African Americans to African immigrants. It has been shown that African Americans have higher rates of both hypertension and diabetes compared to African immigrants (Commodore-Mensah et al, 2018). Although both groups are considered black, their experiences are different. African Americans have faced centuries of discrimination on the basis of race in the United States, which, in many cases, is reflected in their overall health. African immigrants’ health is primarily affected by the issues they faced in their home countries and their treatment as immigrants in the country, and less on those faced in the United States.

Overall, health disparities are best seen through statistical evidence. Comparisons between findings are the most efficient ways to see health disparities in a population.