Tackling Racism And Income Inequality Would Go A Long Way In Solving Health Disparities


Poor health is more a result of social and income inequality, racism, and discrimination, which affect lifestyle choices, than it is about genes.
Photo from photographer Will Steacy’s project “A Product of our Environment” in Time. “Steacy documented how food is marketed and sold in New York City neighborhoods, many of which have reported high rates of poverty, obesity, diabetes and people living without health insurance.”

A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that a third of all adults, half of those over 60, probably have metabolic syndrome. They analyzed NHANES data from 2003 to 2012:

Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome in the United States, 2003-2012, JAMA, 19 May 2015
Study Finds High Prevalence Of Metabolic Syndrome In U.S., JAMA Press Release, 19 May 2015

Nearly 35 percent of all U.S. adults and 50 percent of those 60 years of age or older were estimated to have the metabolic syndrome in 2011-2012.

The metabolic syndrome is combination of health conditions (such as obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, poor lipid profile) that contribute to cardiovascular illness and death.

I want to say something about this:

The highest prevalence was seen in Hispanics.

And this, from Pioneer News:

According to [lead author of the study, Dr. Robert Wong], the knowledge of differences in ethnicity can help researchers devise better measures to determine factors that lead to the syndrome.

That last sentence has to be some of the craziest mishmash of buzzwords I’ve heard in a long time. It confuses instead of clarifying. By failing to state the factors that are already known, and well documented, it perpetuates the problem.

Let me simplify … People don’t get sick because they are Hispanic or Black. People get sick because of racism and poverty.

From Wikipedia’s entry on Race and Health in the United States:

Institutional racism leads to limited opportunities for socioeconomic mobility, differential access to goods and resources, and poor living conditions.

From Wikipedia’s entry on Racial Inequality in the United States:


Tackling racism and income inequality would go a long way in solving health disparities.

Remember this paper? I covered it almost a decade ago.

Bioethnic Conscription: Genes, Race, and Mexicana/o Ethnicity in Diabetes Research, Cultural Anthropology, 2007

The author said:

Our study challenges the presumption that Native American, Mexican American, African American, Australian Aborigine, or other indigenous groups are genetically prone to diabetes. … The evidence demonstrates that higher rates of diabetes across population groups can be explained by non-genetic factors alone.

Unfortunately, looking for genetic factors that influence diabetes in ethnic groups ignores the social factors like poverty and access to health care that have a much stronger correlation to the rates of diabetes among certain groups. And if we don’t understand that those groups are not biological, we will look for biological explanations for their disease rates when we should be looking for social ones.

Researchers have always known that social and economic factors trump genes when it comes to chronic disease. But socioeconomic factors don’t make money for drug companies, and drug companies are paying for a lot of the research these days.

4 thoughts on “Tackling Racism And Income Inequality Would Go A Long Way In Solving Health Disparities

  1. Bix Post author

    It isn’t just racism. Gender and age discrimination also impact these findings. Note than women and older people had higher rates of metabolic syndrome.

  2. Melinda

    Have been meaning to share this for a while. The way they feed the elderly nuns at the nursing home where I work is appalling. Typical: this past Monday, for noontime dinner, they had hot dog & hamburger sandwiches on white bread, potato salad (mayo), & a sweet fatty dessert. For supper the same day, they had fried chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, white rolls, and a salad bar. No wonder so many are getting cancer (remember “The Nuns’ Study”?), abdominal problems (serious), heart attacks/strokes, etc. None of the food is organic, either, despite the Sisters’ connection to Red Hill Farm (organic). The younger Sisters (not yet in the nursing home) get organic veggies, but they give the crapola to the elderly.


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