Report Highlights and Issues Call to Action around Health Disparities in New England

March 3, 2016

New England RHEC Regional Health Equity Report Cover

DURHAM, NH — Racial, ethnic and disability populations in New England have significantly lower rates of health insurance coverage, receive fewer preventive health services, smoke at higher rates and have less access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity as compared to whites and non-disability populations, according to the first-of-its-kind Health Equity Profile and Call to Action released today by the New England Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC).

“As the region grows more diverse, the New England RHEC wanted to bring awareness of both state and regional health equity issues to the forefront,” said Dr. Charles E. Drum, co-chair of the RHEC’s Data, Evaluation and Policy Committee and lead author of the report. “The purpose of this report is to bring attention to health disparities and to foster greater dialog and collaboration to address exposed disparities.”

In its report, the Council used a “social determinants of health” approach to learn what adult racial and ethnic minorities and adults with disabilities in New England are experiencing in terms of health disparities. The Council recognizes that health can be impacted not only by individual behaviors such as smoking or overindulgence in alcohol but by such other factors as access to education, housing, income, healthy foods and health care. It found:

  • Compared to 93 percent of whites in New England, minority groups are less likely to have medical insurance, including only 75 percent of Hispanics.
  • Many racial and ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities in several New England states are twice—even up to three times—more likely than whites and non-disability populations to delay needed medical care because of cost.
  • Disability populations in all New England states suffer from significantly higher rates of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes than those without a disability.
  • African Americans (61 percent), multiracial persons (58 percent), American Indian/Alaska Natives (57 percent) and Hispanics (50 percent) in the region are more likely to smoke than whites (34 percent).
  • Compared to white households, far larger percentages of African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic and multiracial households in our region have incomes of $25,000 or less per year. People with disabilities also are nearly twice as likely to have incomes less than $25,000 than the non-disability population.
  • Thirty-eight percent of Hispanics, 22 percent of African Americans and American Indian/Alaska Natives, and 19 percent of residents with a disability have less than a high school education, compared to eight percent of whites and eight percent of non-disabled residents.

In the report, the Council issued a call to regional leaders to work together to address the health equity of racial and ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities. In addressing existing health disparities, the New England RHEC implored leaders and stakeholders to recognize that education, employment and income are significant determinants of health. The report also urged leaders to share effective strategies for improving health equity and to make the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, including access to preventive health services, a priority.

“The best care is preventive care,” said Dr. Drum. “New England needs to adopt the principle that ill health need not be part of the lived experience for racial and ethnic groups and people with disabilities.”

According to the US Census Bureau, although 80.4 percent of New England’s population is white, the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in the region has increased by more than eight percent in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, 27.2 percent of the regional population has a disability.

The report also documents how New England is faring based on some of the objectives set by Healthy People 2020, a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative. The New England RHEC’s full Regional Health Equity Profile and Call to Action can be accessed on its website.

About the Council: The New England Regional Health Equity Council (RHEC) is one of 10 regional health equity councils formed by the Office of Minority Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services. The mission of the New England RHEC is to achieve health equity for all through collective action in the New England region—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. The New England RHEC’s vision is to achieve health equity through cross-sector interaction and collaboration of activities and resources to optimize health for all where they live, learn, work and play.

The Institute on Disability (IOD) at the University of New Hampshire was established in 1987 to provide a university-based focus for the improvement of knowledge, policies, and practices related to the lives of persons with disabilities and their families. Its mission is to promote full access, equal opportunities, and participation for all persons by strengthening communities and advancing policy and systems change, promising practices, education, and research.

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.