Minority Health Month: Why It's a Thing

Each April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health observes National Minority Health Month. They join the NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to "lead and coordinate activities that improve the health of racial and ethnic minority populations and reduce health disparities.The Office was created in 1986 as a result of the Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Black & Minority Health (commonly known as the Heckler Report), a landmark effort in analyzing minority health issues. As a result of Secretary Heckler's own experiences and advocates, the Task Force was established in 1984 to address documented racial health disparities, including that of life expectancy.

 "The Heckler Report concluded that health disparities accounted for 60,000 excess deaths each year and that six causes of death accounted for more than 80 percent of mortality among Blacks and other minority populations. It further outlined several recommendations to reduced health disparities and revealed the need to improve data collection among Hispanic, Asian American, and American Indian/Alaska Native populations where national health data were limited or lacking," according to this article on the Health Affairs blog from 2018.

Many improvements have been made since the publication of the report. However, more work needs to be done. While childhood vaccination rates have improved, more minorities have health insurance coverage, and the death rate of African Americans has declined, people of color are still more likely to receive poorer quality of care and experience other obstacles to good health. They also bear more illness and death from many chronic diseases.

A few findings from the most recent CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report—U.S. 2013:

  • The infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women was more than double that for non-Hispanic white women in both 2005 and 2008.

  • Tuberculosis case rates remained higher among racial/ethnic minority groups than among whites in 2010.

  • Diabetes prevalence was highest among males, persons aged >/= 65 years, non-Hispanic blacks and those of mixed race, Hispanics, persons with less than high school education, those who were poor, and those with a disability.

  • The rates of premature death (death before age 75 years) from stroke and coronary heart disease were higher among non-Hispanic blacks than among whites.

Minority Health Month's goal is to raise awareness about these many disparities and to support ongoing work to improving the health of all Americans.

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Stephanie Jones