The latest annual report card on the nation's health shows there's been progress in narrowing the gap in health disparities between blacks and whites, while Hispanics continued to have better outcomes than both.
Differences in life expectancy among blacks and whites narrowed between 1980 and 2014, according to findings from the 39th annual edition of HHS' assessment of the health of Americans (PDF) released Wednesday.
Black men made the most significant improvement in life expectancy over the past three decades. In 1980, black men lived an average of 64 years, but by 2014, had a life expectancy of 73. White men lived an average of 6.9 years longer than black men in 1980, but by 2014, white men were living an average of 4.2 years longer.
Rates of infant mortality fell among all racial groups over the past few decades, with the biggest declines occurring among black women, who still had the highest rate at 11 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. But the gap closed between them and the group with the lowest rate, Asian or Pacific Islanders, who experienced a drop to 7.21 from 9.41 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Obesity remained a concern among children and adolescents. At 21.9%, Hispanic youths had the highest prevalence of obesity among those ages 2-19 in 2014, while the lowest rate was found among Asian children at 8.6%.
In 2015, Hispanics ages 18 and 64 had an uninsured rate of 27%, the highest among any racial group. Asian adults had the lowest. From 1999 to 2015, the difference between the groups with the highest rate of non-coverage compared with the lowest narrowed from 25 to 19 percentage points.
Yet despite a lack of healthcare coverage, Hispanics consistently had as good or better health outcomes than either whites or blacks in a number of categories, including lower rates of hypertension, smoking and infant mortality.
The report marks the first comprehensive comparative analysis to examine racial health disparities conducted by HHS since 1985, when then-HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler reported that social determinants such as poverty and lower education caused large health disparities between minorities and whites.
“We have seen important improvements in some health measures for racial and ethnic minority populations since the Heckler report elevated minority health onto a national stage in 1985,” Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of HHS' Office of Minority Health, said in a written statement. “While there has been significant progress in our journey toward health equity, disparities still exist and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to end health disparities in America.”
Curiously, social factors do not seem to impact the health of Hispanics as they do blacks. Researchers who have studied the phenomenon have called it the epidemiological or the “Latino” paradox.