- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Federal health officials yesterday released a new report that shows significant improvement in the health of racial and ethnic minorities even though major ethnic disparities persist.
The good news, said Surgeon General David Satcher, is that "in many ways, Americans of all ages and in every racial and ethnic group has better health today" than they did a decade ago.
Nevertheless, he and other health officials expressed concern that the levels of disparity between the health of minorities and the total U.S. population have narrowed only slightly for about half of the health conditions examined in the report and actually widened substantially in the areas of work-related injury deaths, motor vehicle crash deaths, and suicides.
"Improvement has occurred, but there's not been a great deal of change in the differences between the groups," said Kenneth G. Keppel, an official in Division of Health Promotion for the National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the new report, titled, "Trends in Racial and Ethnic-Specific Rates for the Health Status Indicators: United States, 1990-98."
Mr. Keppel and fellow NCHS researchers, Jeffrey N. Pearcey and Diane K. Wagener, studied trends in the rates of 17 health indicators in five racial-ethnic groups during that eight-year period: non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, American Indian or Alaskan natives, and Asian or Pacific Islanders.
Health status indicators (HSIs) they examined included total death rates, infant-mortality rates, low birthweights, cardiac death rates, stroke death rates, lung cancer death rates, female breast cancer death rates. homicide death rates, tuberculosis case rates, primary and secondary syphilis case rates, and other causes of death, including auto accidents.
Age-adjusted death rates for all groups except American Indians or Alaskan natives were lower in 1998 than in 1990.
The two groups with the lowest respective death rates in 1990, Asians and Hispanics, retained their rankings in 1998. Their death rates also declined by the greatest proportions: by 10 percent for Asians and 13 percent for Hispanics.
The two groups with the highest death rates, non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites, had reductions of 9 percent and 6 percent, respectively. The rates for American Indians increased 4 percent from 1990 to 1998.
The federal researchers found that the 1998 age-adjusted death rate for blacks 710.7 per 100,000 population was nearly three times greater than that of the Asians at 264.6 per 100,000.
During that eight-year period, all five racial/ethnic groups experienced declines in rates of heart-disease death, the nation's No. 1 killer. They fell by 17 percent for Hispanics, by 15 percent for whites, by 14 percent for Asians, by 11 percent for blacks and by 8 percent for Americans Indians.
Blacks had the highest cardiac-death rate, 188 per 100,000 in 1998. That was down from nearly 212 per 100,000 in 1990. But as with the total death rates, blacks' heart disease death rate remained more than twice that of Asians. The latter's rate of 78 per 100,000 was the lowest of the groups studied.
All racial/ethnic groups except for American Indians had declines in lung cancer death rates in the last decade. The rate for Indians rose by 28 percent, from 19.6 to 25.1 per 100,000. Hispanics had the lowest death rate from lung cancer, while blacks had the highest. In 1998, the lung cancer death rate for blacks was 46 per 100,000, a rate 3.4 times higher than that of Hispanics.
For three other indicators death rates for stroke, breast cancer and suicide all groups showed improvement, except American Indians.
Progress was shown in reducing syphilis case rates and stroke death rates. Mr. Keppel said blacks showed "enormous improvement" in decreasing incidence of syphilis, with an 88 percent decrease between 1990 and 1998. The overall syphilis rate fell by 87 percent.
Yet syphilis infection rates in 1998 remained far higher for blacks (16.9 cases per 100,000 population) compared to rates for whites (0.5), Asians (0.4), Hispanics (1.5) and American Indians (2.8).

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