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June 29, 2021

The fight against health disparities

How to focus on the things you can control

Adult Health COVID-19

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The pandemic has profoundly affected each and every one of us, but data shows that ethnic and racial minority groups have experienced the virus’s devastating impacts at a disproportional rate.

While concerning, health disparities are not unique to COVID-19. Ethnic and racial minority groups face increased risks for many other chronic health conditions. Consider this:

• African Americans ages 18-49 are two times more likely to die from heart disease than their white counterparts, and African Americans ages 35-64 years are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure. African Americans are also disproportionately affected by asthma, diabetes, obesity, and stroke.

• Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes and to die from it. Asthma, heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer are also significant health concerns among the Latino community.

• American Indians and Alaska Natives are almost three times more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes . American Indian and Alaska Natives also have much higher rates of getting several cancers, including lung, colorectal, liver, stomach, and kidney cancers, compared to non-Hispanic white people in the United States.

• Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are at a greater risk of being diagnosed with diabetes, and are almost twice as likely to be have certain types of cancer.

Recognizing minority health

While social determinants of health contribute to these inequities, healthy behaviors are also key to fighting minority health disparities.

For National Minority Health Month back in April, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) worked to raise awareness about the health disparities that affect minority communities and highlight simple and effective ways to protect your health.

Take charge of your health

While there are things beyond our immediate control that may influence health, there are things within your control that you can do to stay healthy.

  1. Be active. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise. Regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy body weight and reduces your risk of health conditions like arthritis, depression and anxiety, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, many types of cancer, obesity, and stroke. This can be as simple as taking a 20 minute walk each day.
  2. Catch some zzz’s. According to The National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night to rest and recharge the mind and body. The health benefits of getting enough sleep include a healthier heart, steadier blood sugar levels, and weight control.
  3. Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking increases your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and diabetes. If you have asthma, tobacco smoke can trigger an attack or make an attack worse. Smoking can also cause cancer almost anywhere in your body. Quitting smoking can reduce your risks for these conditions and many others.
  4. Eat well. A healthy diet includes a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Good nutrition can help you manage your weight, which is key to lowering your risk of obesity — a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, and sleep apnea.
  5. Limit your alcohol consumption. Women may have up to one drink a day, while men may consume up to two drinks a day. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of serious health problems, including certain cancers, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  6. Reduce stress. We all have stress in our lives, but if not managed properly it can cause serious health problems including heart disease and high blood pressure. Be sure to take time each day to relax, practice mindfulness or deep breathing. Self-care can also help you protect your well-being.

Addressing health disparities

As the region’s largest health insurance organization, Independence is committed to addressing health disparities and the social determinants of health that impact minority communities. Here are some things Independence is doing across the community to fight health disparities:

• Keystone Connection to Wellness. Independence is collaborating with Project HOME to address significant health disparities in life expectancy and infant mortality experienced by North Philadelphia residents.

• Know Your Mind. Independence launched a new mental health public awareness campaign to educate the community about symptoms of depression and anxiety, and how to help themselves and others during these emotionally challenging times. The campaign includes a special focus on the millennial generation (ages 25-40), one-third of whom, have a behavioral health condition.

• Our Community. Our Health. Independence partnered with The Philadelphia Tribune to launch a public health awareness campaign to combat the disproportionate rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease in the African American community. The campaign empowered people to improve their health or the health of someone they love, offering access to health screenings, nutrition services, and healthy lifestyle counseling.

• The Well City Challenge. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Independence launched the Well City Challenge to address Philadelphia’s millennial health and mental health challenges.

Get rewarded for healthy behaviors

Making healthy choices can have a big impact on your health. To encourage you on your journey, Independence offers its members incentives to help them make their health a top priority. If you’re an Independence member, you may be eligible to participate in the Healthy Lifestyles℠ reimbursement program. Through the program, you can earn up to $150 for joining an eligible gym and working out regularly, get up to $150 back when you participate in an approved weight management program, and get up to $150 when you complete an approved program to help you quit using tobacco. To learn more, visit Independence’s Reimbursements site.

Learn more about healthy eating

Ready to change your diet? If you’re an Independence member, you may be covered for six free annual visits with a registered dietitian. Check to see if your health plan covers nutrition counseling. To find a participating registered dietitian, primary care provider, or another network provider, Independence members can search the Provider Finder Tool.

This article was originally published on IBX Insights.

About Veronica Serrano

Mother. Wife. TV junkie. Shopaholic. That’s me in a nutshell – outside of work. As a copywriter at Independence, I enjoy learning about the health and wellness topics that I write about and hope to incorporate more healthy habits into my daily life to give me the energy to keep up with my baby girl.

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