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Press Release

American Dietetic Association Offers Recommendations to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

2011-03-01

Media Contacts: Ryan O'Malley, Allison MacMunn
800/877-1600, ext. 4769, 4802 media@eatright.org

CHICAGO – Minority populations are in relatively poor health and are underserved by the nation’s health care system, making it more important than ever to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in providing care, according to the American Dietetic Association. As a guide for food and nutrition professionals to develop methods to eliminate health disparities, ADA has published a new practice paper for its members. “Addressing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities” is published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

“Racial and ethnic health disparities affect minority populations disproportionately, but in reality affect us all, according to the paper’s authors. ADA’s practice paper outlines strategies for registered dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered to promote cultural and linguistic competence and to address the needs of all underserved populations. Food and nutrition practitioners play a key role in reducing health disparities. They can be most effective providing care that is equitable, respectful and compatible with the language, culture and health beliefs of those they serve,” according to the paper.

Racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. health-care system a “staggering” $23.9 billion in direct costs in 2009, according to ADA’s practice paper. The authors add that health disparities “also have a great financial effect on society in terms of human potential” as a result of increased illnesses and early deaths. The financial and “human costs” of health disparities are causing health practitioners and “participants in the health care system” alike to become “more focused on resolving these disparities.”

ADA’s practice paper was written by Wendy L. Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, public health nutrition and health policy advisor at the National Institutes of Health’s Division of Nutrition Resource Coordination, Bethesda, Md; Leslene E. Gordon, PhD, RD, LD, community health director at the Hillsborough County Health Department, Fla.; and Suganya Sockalingam, PhD, founding partner and executive director at Change Matrix LLC, Las Vegas, Nev.

Practice papers are evaluative summaries of scientific information and practical application that address topics of importance to ADA members. While they provide opportunities for improvement in dietetics practice and include peer-reviewed perspectives from experts in the field, they should not be interpreted as official positions of ADA.

The authors write that minority populations “have a higher incidence of chronic disease, poorer health outcomes and higher mortality compared to the majority population. Blacks and Native Hawaiians are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer and stroke when compared to their white counterparts.” Blacks and American Indians have infant mortality rates 2.5 times higher than whites, and blacks and Hispanics have rates of HIV infection nine times higher. In addition, “blacks, Hispanics and American Indians are bearing the brunt of the obesity epidemic.”

In 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services developed an “overarching goal” of eliminating health disparities, prompted by a 1998 report from the Institute of Medicine titled Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. The IOM report “found evidence to suggest that bias, prejudice and stereotyping by physicians may contribute to differences in health care outcomes,” the authors write. “They proposed that the bias is not necessarily malicious in nature, but results from a lack of understanding of other cultures, time pressures and uncertainties about a diagnosis or effect of a certain treatment.”

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Addressing Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Audiocast (MP3 file)