States Looks To Address Socioeconomic Factors Involved in Health Disparities
Officials in several states -- including California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Virginia -- are "revamping health departments to focus less on scientific data and more on the role of 'social determinants,'" such as poverty and discrimination, which some believe are contributing to health disparities, the AP/Washington Times reports. According to the AP/Times, it has "long been suggested" that socioeconomic factors, such as a lack of transportation to physician appointments, can influence disease rates in minorities; and officials in some states are dedicating more resources to determining those factors.
Michael Royster, director of Virginia's Office of Minority Health and Public Health Policy, said higher rates of diseases among minorities are "related to socioeconomic factors as well as the impact of perceived racism," adding, "What we're looking at is not only health care, but the roles that health care, health behaviors and these broader social determinants play in creating health inequities." For example, Royster said that to combat smoking as a cause for increasing cancer rates among minorities, officials could shift their focus to the prevalence of tobacco advertisements in urban communities.
However, James Marks, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said that state health agencies do not have the legislative authority to address some factors, such as developing better housing or raising wages for minority populations. Marks said, "It is often policies that are outside (health officials') responsibility that need to be changed," adding, "It requires mayors and governors ... they've got to be the ones to call together the private sector and the public sector" (Walker, AP/Washington Times, 12/28/07).