April-May 2012

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Many Americans Unaware of Health Disparities Among Racial and Ethnic Minorities

April is National Minority Health Month.  As public health practitioners, we know that minority populations face higher rates of morbidity and mortality and suffer poorer health outcomes than their non-Hispanic white peers.  However, many Americans are not fully aware of racial and ethnic health disparities, according to a recently released study conducted by the National Opinion research center at the University of Chicago and commissioned by the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The study assesses public awareness of racial and ethnic health disparities in a random sample of 3,159 phone interviews from 2010.  The study also compares the 2010 data to data collected from similar surveys done since 1999 in order to determine trends over time.  Perhaps due to the national discussion concerning health care reform, more people were aware of disparities in health care access, health insurance coverage, health care costs, access to providers, and quality of care in 2010 than in 1999.  However, awareness about disproportionate burden of certain diseases and conditions – such as infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes – on racial and ethnic minorities remains low.  For instance, infant mortality rates among African Americans are twice that of rates among Whites, but only 43 percent of the population is aware of this disparity, according to the study.     

"These findings serve as a wake-up call..."

Some key findings of this study include:

  • Awareness of health disparities is low even among individuals of racial and ethnic minority groups that are affected by these disparities.
  • The greater an individual’s education, the more likely that individual is to be aware of racial and ethnic health disparities.

The authors say that “These findings serve as a wake-up call that a significant amount of work focused on informing the U.S. population of health conditions that disproportionately impact specific racial and ethnic minority groups remains unfinished.” They suggest that the study data be used to design future public awareness campaigns for targeted populations and the general public.  For instance, this survey suggests that Hispanics would benefit from a campaign that increases awareness that they are at increased risk of diabetes. 

There is concern among some public health practitioners that awareness campaigns targeted towards minority groups may stigmatize the group or encourage individuals of other racial and ethnic groups to believe that condition in the campaign could not happen to them.  However, the study authors say that it is very important that the public knows about existing health disparities because, “Public perceptions—and misperceptions—about racial and ethnic differences in health status can influence the actions of policy-makers in addressing the problem.”  Policy-makers and their constituencies must be aware of the disparities that racial and ethnic minorities face before any effective policy can be developed and enacted.  Click here to see the original article

In the News - Rural Food Insecurity Needs Attention, Says Study

A new study by Ramadurai, Sharf, and Sharkey of Texas A&M University addresses the issue of food insecurity in rural populations and contends that this issue has been overlooked by researchers and program planners alike.   Ramadurai, Sharf, and Sharkey contend that the consequences of food insecurity are “harsh, resulting in people being forced to eat nutritionally-compromised food, and some eating fewer than the recommended number of meals” per day.  The authors stress that the well-fed rural farmer of the popular imagination obscures the very real plight of the current rural American, many of whom are food insecure.

In this new qualitative study, the authors interviewed 86 rural residents about their personal experiences with food insecurity, identifying several factors that contribute to the problem.  Such factors include grocery stores that sell expensive and substandard quality food, negative impacts of climate change on home gardens, the high cost of gas to reach far-flung supermarkets, lack of fresh fruit and vegetables at community food banks, long work hours, and family member dislike for healthier foods.  The authors also found that these factors impacted all racial and ethnic groups, although non-English-speakers were least likely to know about existing community services.  Finally, the study found that social capital was particularly high in rural areas and it may be an asset to communities aiming to address food insecurity.  Click here to see the original article.

In the News - Vitamin D May Shrink Uterine Fibroids

Researchers working on a NIH-funded study recently reported that vitamin D was shown to significantly reduce the size of fibroid tumors in rats.

Uterine fibroid tumors (which are noncancerous) affect approximately 30% of women between the ages of 25 to 44, and may result in painful menstrual periods and lower back pain, as well as an increased risk of miscarriage and infertility.  According to a recent NIH analysis, uterine fibroids cost Americans about $34 billion each year in medical costs and lost productivity.  Surgical removal of the uterus has been one of the few treatments available to women who suffer from severe fibroid-related symptoms.

In this study, researchers divided rats with fibroid tumors into two groups.  One group of rats was given the equivalent of a human dose of 1,400 IUs of vitamin D; the other group was not given any vitamin D.  The fibroid tumors in rats that received vitamin D were 75% smaller than the fibroid tumors in rats that were not given vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for muscle and bone health, as well as immune system maintenance.  Fatty fish, such as tuna, and fortified milk are excellent sources of vitamin D – your body can also produce vitamin D when exposed to sunshine!  The National Institutes of Health recommend that adults and children over the age of 9 consume 600 IUs of vitamin D each day.  

While more research must be done to determine if vitamin D has the same effects on humans, these are promising results!  To read more, click here.  For a quick fact sheet on vitamin D, click here

Resources Vaccine Website Now Available in Spanishvaccine

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has long operated a very useful website that provides vaccine information to the public at http://www.vaccines.gov/.  HHS recently created a Spanish-language version of the website, available at http://es.vaccines.gov/.  Both sites are designed to be accessible to the average reader.  The sites address concerns and answer questions about vaccines using the latest scientific information.  Some of the easy-to-read content you will find on these easy-to-navigate sites includes:

  • information on vaccine safety and effectiveness
  • a helpful widget that provides an immunization schedule by age and health condition
  • a link to find a health center providing free or low-cost vaccines near you 
  • descriptions of the diseases that common vaccines prevent

Check out these websites today!

Resources - Helpful Hints for Skin Protection

Arizona leads the nation in number of sunny days with an astounding 350 days of sunshine every year.  All of that sunlight allows the human body to produce essential Vitamin D, which may help prevent fractures, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancers.  But Arizona residents should keep in mind the old adage, “everything in moderation,” as too much sunshine can lead to deadly skin cancers.

Anyone who spends any amount of time out in our bright, and sometimes scorching, Arizona sun should check out the CDC’s skin cancer prevention page.  This site is filled with practical and easy tips to prevent skin cancer, like choosing sunglasses that wrap around your head and using sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  The site also reminds readers that skin damage can happen even if you are outside for as short as 15 minutes.  Get the information you need to protect yourself and your family next time you head outside!

Resources - 2012 WOMAN Challenge

The Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants you to get active and eat healthy this year during Women’s Health Week, which runs from Sunday, May 13th (Mother’s Day) to Saturday, May 19th, by joining the 2012 WOMAN Challenge. After registering for the challenge, you’ll be able to track your progress towards physical activity and nutrition goals using the online tracker tool. You’ll also be able to compare your efforts and progress against other women who have joined the challenge by joining an online group. Registered members can even use the website as a social networking site, where you are able to share tips and learn from other women who have joined the challenge through online messages and conversations. To find out more or join the 2012 WOMAN Challenge, click here to register.

Upcoming Events and Training –

Annual Rural Health Conference
Date: April 17-20, 2012
Presented by: National Rural Health Association
Location: Denver, CO
Details: Registration is now open
Click here to go to the website. 

Annual Women’s Mental Health Symposium
Date: April 21, 2012
Presented by: The University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry
Location: Memorial Ballroom, Student Union Memorial Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Details: Registration is now open
Click here to go to the website.

AzPHA Annual Spring Conference: Mental Illness Stigma: Let’s Overcome It!
Date: April 27, 2012
Presented by: Community Partnership of Southern Arizona
Location: 2502 N. Dodge Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85716
Details: Registration is now open
Click here to go to the website.

Break the Cycle: Methamphetamine and Community Oriented Policing in Indian Country
Date: May1-4, 2012
Presented by: Strategic Applications International
Location: Hyatt Regency, 122 North Second Street, Phoenix, AZ
Details: Registration is now open
Click here to go to the website

Observances –

National Public Health Week
Dates: April 2 – 8
Click here to go to the National Public Health Week website.

National Donate Life Month
Dates: April 1 – 30
Click here to go to the US Government organ donor website.

National Minority Health Month
Dates: April 1 – 30
Click here to go to the Office of Minority Health website.

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month
Dates: April 1 – 30
Click here to go to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network website.

National Women’s Health Week
Dates: May 13 – 19
Click here to go to the National Women's Health Week website.

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month
Dates: May 1 – 31
Click here to go to the American Academy of Dermatology website.

National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
Dates: May 1 – 31
Click here to go to the National Osteoporosis Foundation website.

Funding Opportunities –

Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) Community Facilities Loan Program
Deadline: applications accepted on an ongoing basis
Purpose: The RCAC Community Facilities Loan Program is designed to provide short-term loans to eligible applicants (nonprofit organizations, public agencies, or tribal governments) to build or improve essential facilities in rural communities (populations of 50,000 persons or less). Priority is given to applications that use sustainable methods and materials.
Amount: not to exceed $2,000,000
Click here for more information.

Wells Fargo Arizona Grant Program
Deadline: applications accepted on an ongoing basis
Purpose: This grant is designed to support social and human care organizations involved in a variety of issues, notably health services and education, social services, and basic needs assistance. Priority is given to applicants who primarily serve low- and moderate-income individuals and families.
Amount: not specified
Click here for more information.

Editor’s Note
The Arizona Rural Women’s Health Initiative (AzRWHI) is a project of the Center for Rural Health at The University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

Jennifer Peters,  Coordinator (520) 626-2254, petersjs@u.arizona.edu
Jessica Hersh-Ballering, Graduate Assistant, hershballering@email.arizona.edu