Public Health

Racial Health Disparities Among People with Chronic Conditions in the US: Facts and Statistics

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race and healthAlthough overall health has improved in the U.S. population, the benefits are not equally spread across groups.

race and healthAlthough overall health has improved in the U.S. population, the benefits are not equally spread across groups.

Members of racial and ethnic minority populations face poorer health than whites, often attributed to inadequate access to care, poverty, as well as cultural and communication barriers. These differences, known as health disparities, refer to “population-specific” health outcomes and disease prevalence that reflect social inequalities. Differences in income, race, and ethnicity not only influence the likelihood of being healthy, but also sickness, illness, and morbidity. 

Here’s a look at the striking health disparities that exist among Americans:

African Americans

  • Leading causes of death among this group are from chronic conditions including heart disease, cancer, and stroke.
  • African American adults are 15% more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have a diagnosis of diabetes
  • Obesity rates are high among African Americans – 37 percent of men and 50 percent of women are obese.
  • Though they are 10% less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, African American women are 34% more likely to die of the disease.
  • African American men are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than whites
  • African Americans had asthma-related emergency room visits 4.5 times more often than whites.


  • Leading causes of death among this group are heart disease, cancer, and accidents.
  • Obesity rates are high in this group — 43 percent of women and 34 percent of Hispanic or Latino men are obese
  • 14% percent of adults in this group have diabetes, compared to 8% of white adults
  • Hispanic women contract cervical cancer at twice the rate of white women

Asian Americans

  • Leading causes of death in this group are cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Cervical cancer is more common (5x more) among Vietnamese American women than among any other racial or ethnic group in the United States
  • Older Asian-American women have the highest suicide rate of all women over age 65 in the United States.
  • Unlike other groups, obesity is not a problem with Asian American. In fact, about 1 in 10 Vietnamese and Korean adults are underweight.

American Indians and Alaska Natives

  • Leading causes of death for this group include heart disease, cancer, and accidents. Suicide is a leading cause of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives.
  • Diabetes rates among American Indian and Alaska Native adults is over twice that of white adults
  • Adults in this group are 1.6 times times as likely to be obese
  • They are 60% more likely than whites to have a stroke in their lifetime
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults are 1.6 times as likely as white adults to be obese.

Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders

  • The leading causes of death among this group are cancer, heart disease, accidents, stroke, and diabetes.
  • Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption versus other racial and ethnic groups.
  • Native Hawiians are nearly 6 times more likely to die of diabetes than white
  • Members of this group are 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites. 

How can we begin to reduce health disparities among America’s racial and ethnic groups?

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