Disability and Health Disparities: Some Quick Facts

The CDC defines health disparities as:

A type of difference in health that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage. Health disparities negatively affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater social or economic obstacles to health. These obstacles stem from characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion such as race or ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, mental health, sexual orientation, or geographic location. Other characteristics include cognitive, sensory, or physical disability.

For the last few months, I have gathered articles and data on the intersections of health outcomes, disability, and race.  What I have learned is sobering and raises questions not only about the social determinants of health and shortcomings of contemporary medical practice, but also the insidiously silent realities of modern-day racism, marginalization, and perhaps even eugenics.  I will write more about this in the coming weeks.  For now, a look at the numbers.

  • Black children with Down syndrome are twice as likely to die during childhood and adolescence as their White peers.  In 1960, an individual born with Down syndrome typically lived only a few years.  While there have been great gains in health outcomes for Americans with Down syndrome, the distribution of progress is far from equal.  As recently as the 1990s, the life expectancy for Black Americans with Down syndrome was approximately half of that of their White peers.(For more, refer to this CDC study and also here.)
  •  In one study of infants with Down syndrome in Texas, there were no significant differences in infant mortality within the first year of life.  The disparities emerge and grow continuously during childhood and adolescence, pointing clearly to social factors .
  • Americans with disabilities are four times as likely to report their overall health as fair to poor, in contrast to their non-disabled peers.
  • According to one study, adults ages 30+ with intellectual disabilities are five times as likely to have diabetes.  They also experience similar disparities regarding asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, and stroke.
  • CDC data indicates that children with disabilities are 38% more likely than their non-disabled peers to be obese.  The number rises to 57% for adults.
  • In Texas, adults with disabilities are significantly more likely to have arthritis, asthma, cancer, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes, or COPD, as well as depression.  They are also more likely to have had a hysterectomy or to lose teeth due to decay or disease.  (See this page for more.)
  • 44% of Whites diagnosed with depression receive antidepressants.  The figure for Black Americans?  27%.  (See AAHD Fact Sheet for more.)
  • Of people diagnosed with serious mental illness, three in every five will die 25 years earlier than their peers due to preventable chronic diseases, such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (AAHD Fact Sheet).
  • Nearly 61% of Americans with disabilities are obese (CDC-NCBDD).
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