2014 Public Health Year-in-Review: Part 2

Last week, we started off the Top Ten Biggest Public Health Issues of 2014 by examining the shortage in general practitioners and the increase in digitized health records. This week let’s take a look at two more health issues that have impacted public health in the past year.

3. National Health Disparities

Health disparities are differences in health outcomes based on where people live, their income levels, the education they received, their age, ethnicity and other factors. These factors may impair one’s chance at a healthy life and, as a result, cause disadvantaged populations to be more significantly impacted than others with illness and death. So what does health disparity look like in the US? The CDC’s latest Health Disparities & Inequalities Report on this timely issue found that:

  • More African-Americans die from stroke and heart disease than Caucasians do.
  • People of lower socioeconomic status (Made less than $25,000 annually) binge drink the most often and with the highest intensity than binge drinkers with a higher income.
  • People who had completed only a high school education had the highest rates of suicide in the U.S., whereas people with the most schooling had the lowest rates of suicide.

The above examples are just a snapshot at how one’s ethnicity, income and education help predict adverse health outcomes. This gap has not gotten any smaller in the last few decades. Obesity, adolescent birth, cancer, HIV and homicide are just a few issues that affect people of different ages, sex, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status in a disproportionate way.

A large part of how much we get sick or how long we might live is affected by what happens to us outside of the doctor’s office. Where we are born, what jobs we take, and how long we go to school help determine our likelihood at a healthy life. Whats more, a person’s life initially starts out as a lottery of luck. As infants, every human being enters this world with either an advantageous or disadvantaged start. This luck of the draw activates life’s time clock and everyday, every behavior determines health and life expectancy outcomes from that point.

It is unfortunate that for a nation that spends more on health care than any other industrialized nation, our low-income, ethnic minority, disabled, and rural populations continually have a higher risk of disease, injury and detrimental health outcomes. The major issue of health disparity has begun the conversation on how we can address and improve the health of our nation. This is not an issue that public health can tackle alone; it is a national health problem that requires a multi-disciplinary approach to champion change.

4. Aging Baby Boomers and Health

To date, there are 76.4 million baby boomers living in America (U.S. Census Bureau). Between 1946 and 1964, an extreme surge of births occurred, the term “Baby Boomers” was coined to address this large segment of the population. As those babies grew older our population began to shift. Having an older population impacts our health status and health care system. The aging of the baby boomers means more demand on Medicare, more geriatric specialists, palliative care, more assisted living facilities and care homes. The elderly are also susceptible to chronic disease and limited functional ability. This dramatically shifts the focus of health care and health promotion efforts.

But perhaps an older population doesn’t necessarily mean a sicker one. The Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence and MIT AgeLab reported that adults in their 60s had higher levels of resilience than those in their 40s and 50s. They found that those highly resilient adults between 40-69 years old, had less stress, were happier and had stronger social connections than those with lower resiliency levels. The self-efficacy and behaviors exhibited by seniors in this study are protective of better health outcomes.

As public health and medical professionals learn to treat and care for older Americans – more attention should be focused on communicating and addressing the distinctive characteristics of their age group. It also goes without saying that pursuing a career in gerontology or geriatrics will be more desirable as our population gets older.

Continue to read the Year-In-Review blog posts as we journey through 6 more public health issues of 2014.