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Health disparities: An important public health policy concern

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Health disparities are an important public health policy concern as they are related to the social inequalities in population health. Health disparities are not just a problem for the persons experiencing them, but also a concern for the entire population in the society. Take the U.S. as an example; there ...

Health disparities are an important public health policy concern as they are related to the social inequalities in population health. Health disparities are not just a problem for the persons experiencing them, but also a concern for the entire population in the society. Take the U.S. as an example; there are large health status gaps between racial groups, and the health of the racial minorities in the U.S. will negatively impact the overall health of the nation. Health disparities are also costly and particularly burdensome to the US healthcare system. A 2009 report on the economic burden of health disparities in the U.S. commissioned by the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies revealed that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 30.6% of direct medical care expenditures for African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics were excess costs due to health inequalities (LaVeist et al. 2009). African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians accounted for $229.4 billion in direct medical expenditures due to health disparities. It is clear that health disparities are prevalent in the healthcare system.

As indicated above, health disparities are common among racial and ethnic minorities, specifically, in the disproportionate burden of illness. I would like to specify the topic to the subject of racial disparities in outcomes of different types of cancers. For example, prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer aside from skin cancer and the second leading cause of cancer mortality in men in the U.S. Its death rate in African Americans remains more than twice as high as those in whites (American Cancer Society 2012, 2013). These mortality differences persist even if tumor grade, stage, and socioeconomic status are adjusted (Polednak, 1990; Ries et al, 1994; Targonski et al, 1991). This knowledge suggests that other reasons, such as genetics, patient perception, access to healthcare system, health seeking behaviors and compliance, may justify race as an independent predictor for mortality. Findings from empirical research on risk factors that can be altered will provide recommendations on effective interventions that contribute to the important public health goal of reducing health disparities.

Our discussion on racial disparities in cancer outcomes will convene a group of papers examining the empirical evidence of racial disparities in cancer outcomes, exploring a range of potential reasons for these disparities at different levels and angles, and suggesting promising interventions to reduce these disparities.


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