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Public Familiarity with National Health Disparities Reports and Awareness Campaigns is Low

By Jorge E. Bañales

A recent study found that the general public has relatively low levels of familiarity and contact with important national health disparities reports and awareness campaigns.

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH) conducted the Trends in U.S. Public Awareness of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health (1999-2010) study from April to June 2010.

Of positive significance, the study noted a significant jump, from 36 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in 2010, in the percentage of African Americans in the general population who reported reading or hearing about health disparities over the past year.

However, the increase awareness about health disparities was only marginal for Hispanic/Latinos and Whites, with only 49 percent of Hispanic/Latinos and 40 percent of Whites reporting exposure to information about health disparities reflecting a small increase from the 44 percent and 38 percent respectively in 2009.

The number of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who said they had heard about health disparities during the same period remained almost unchanged, from 33 percent in 2009, down to 32 percent in 2010.

Of the total sample surveyed in 2010, 43 percent said they had heard about health disparities during the past year, up from 39 percent in 2009.

The highest rated health disparities report was the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentary "Unnatural Causes," which was recognized by 27 percent of African Americans, 19 percent of Hispanic/Latinos and 18 percent of Whites.

This was followed by the "Healthy People 2010" government report which was identified by 26 percent of African Americans, 23 percent of Hispanic/Latinos, and 21 percent of Whites.

These numbers represent an increase for African Americas and Hispanic/Latinos from 21 percent in 2009. For Whites, the finding was a significant increase from the 13 percent who in 2009 said they were aware of this government report.

The study also found that 22 percent of African Americans were aware of the Institute of Medicine's "Unequal Treatment" report.

However, from 2009 to 2010, two government initiatives lost numbers in terms of awareness among the general population. The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality's (AHRQ) "Health Disparities Report" and the Office of Minority Health's "National Partnership for Action," lost awareness percentages among African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos.

For AHRQ, 22 percent of African Americans and Hispanic/Latinos said in 2009 they were aware of the report. This number went down to 13 and 12 percent, respectively.

For OMH, 21 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of Hispanic/Latinos said they were aware of the program in 2009, although in 2010, only 16 percent of African Americans and 6 percent of Hispanic/Latinos said the same thing.

The numbers for AAPIs were very low in most categories. Although 22 percent of AAPIs in 2010 said they were aware of "Healthy People 2010," between 3 and 13 percent were aware of the other campaigns or reports during the two years surveyed.

The study was based on a national random sample of 3,159 telephone interviews with adults aged 18 and over, including 1,329 non-Hispanic Whites, 855 non-Hispanic African Americans, 591 Hispanic/Latinos, and 179 Asian American/Pacific Islanders.

The work provides a comprehensive analysis of awareness among the U.S. public of health disparities that place a disproportionate burden of preventable disease and premature death on racial and ethnic minorities as compared to the rest of the U.S. population.

Findings from the study paint a broad picture of the extent to which the U.S. population is aware of racial and ethnic health disparities, and how these perceptions have changed over the last decade.

Overall, the data show that people are more aware of disparities in health care access, such as health insurance coverage, costs, and access to providers and quality care. Increases in awareness over time suggest that the general population is becoming more aware that, in the United States, racial and ethnic minority populations are disproportionally affected by a number of serious diseases and conditions.

However, awareness of health disparities is still quite low overall.

Infant mortality continues to disproportionately affect some minority populations yet awareness of this disparity today is no different than it was in 1999. In addition, findings show that there is no widespread awareness of disparities in HIV/AIDS infection rates, nor is there adequate awareness that some racial and ethnic minority groups are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as Whites.

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 on specific racial and ethnic minority groups remains unfinished.

For more information:

Health Affairs Article on Awareness Of Racial And Ethnic Health Disparities Exit Disclaimer

Health Affairs Article on the HHS Disparities Reduction Plan Exit Disclaimer

Study Brief [PDF | 112KB]

2010 General Population [PDF | 257KB]

2009 General Population [PDF | 254KB

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Content Last Modified: 2/2/2012 3:51:00 PM
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