(Originally posted at WireTap Magazine)
The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a new and extremely important study that documents the health disparities that exist between white women and women of color. Entitled, “Putting Women’s Health Care Disparities on the Map: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities at the State Level,” the report’s findings show that women of color are disproportionately affected by a range of health issues including diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, AIDS, and cancer (PDF). Women of color also experience high rates of inadequate health care, no health insurance and no prenatal care. National average data shows that 27.9% of women of color don’t have any health coverage, compared to 12.8% of their white counterparts.
The report examines data on a state level, stressing the range of factors that affect women’s health, including education, socioeconomic status, and geography. The findings are grim, to say the least. The states where disparities seem smaller are areas in which both white women and women of color are facing significant socioeconomic challenges. States that show smaller disparities in health care access still show higher disparities in specific health conditions, poor education and poverty.
A key aspect to the report is that it closely examines specific racial and ethnic groups instead of homogenizing the health experiences of all women of color. Native American and Native Alaskan women showed to have higher rates of poor health care, smoking, obesity, and overall reports of negative health compared to other racial groups. One third of the women are uninsured. The reports findings on the health conditions and challenges faced by Latinas and black women confirm some of the issues I have discussed before regarding obesity and bulimia among women of color. Across the board, white women fared better than women of color on most social and health factors, with few exceptions that include smoking, cancer mortality, and psychological distress. Geographically, it looks like Washington D.C fares worse in many areas for women of color, with the highest disparity score on 6 of 11 of the studied indicators.
In the larger conversation about overhauling U.S health care, providing adequate health care and creating preventative treatment programs for women of color in various geographic and socioeconomic communities cannot be overlooked. The report and its findings make it clear that health services and poor health are closely interconnected to issues of race and gender. Local and national governments and organizations that strive to close these disparities will need to consider the experiences of women of color in particular, in order to provide truly equal health care.
For a more intimate look at the effects of health disparities on women, check out this short podcast about the Arlington Free Clinic.