Los Angeles Women Experience Health Disparities On A Large Scale

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County health officials released the first ever report, Health Indicators for Women in Los Angeles County: Highlighting Disparities by Ethnicity and Insurance Status.

The report showed that compared to men, women have higher rates of many serious chronic diseases and depression, and that women differ greatly in disease and death rates by race and ethnicity.

African American women had the highest overall mortality rate including the highest mortality rate for coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer. More than half of African American women were found to be at risk for developing heart disease, compared to 38% of Latinas, 36% of white women, and 27% of Asian/Pacific Islander women. In addition, more African American women were smoking cigarettes in 2005 compared to 1999.

The report also highlights disparities experienced by Latina women in the county. A higher percentage of Central American women are living in poverty, are uninsured, and lack a regular source of health care compared to Mexican, South American women, and women of other racial/ethnic groups. Latina women overall, along with African American women, have notably higher rates of overweight and obesity compared to white and Asian/Pacific Islander women. Among Latina subgroups, overweight and obesity rates are higher among Mexican (66%) and Central American women (60%) compared to South American women (47%).

Among Asian/Pacific Islander women, Vietnamese women were found to have higher rates of poverty (68%). Korean women are the least likely to report having a regular source of health care (63%) and have much lower rates of breast and cervical cancer screening compared to Chinese, Filipino, and Vietnamese women.

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"These findings are unacceptable and as a community we clearly need to do more to address the underlying yet complex issues that contribute to these disparate health outcomes," said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Public Health Director and County Health Officer. "The health care needs of women are unique, reflecting the influence of complex and challenging economic, social and biological factors. In addition, women are often the primary caretakers and health care decision makers for the entire family; therefore the health and well-being of women are important factors in the health of the entire family."

# Other key findings on the overall health of women include: Rates of obesity among women have increased from 15% in 1997 to 20% in 2005

# Compared to men, women have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, arthritis, asthma and depression

# Diabetes mortality rates have increased by 13% among women from 1995 to 2004

# The report also highlights the important role of social and economic factors as determinants of health disparities. Many factors contribute to health disparities, including poverty, gender, race/ethnicity, lack of health insurance, access to care, and environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, a key contributor to poor health among many women is the fact that almost 50% are living in poverty.

"Multi-faceted strategies are needed to eliminate the health disparities identified by this report," said Ellen Eidem, program director, Office of Women's Health. "We need to continue promoting prevention and quality health care at every level as well as support research efforts and community-based interventions that can help make an impact on the women identified in this report."

The indicators are described for both women and men in the county and for women alone to emphasize gender differences. The indicators are also compared to Healthy People 2010 targets which represent the health standards our nation is trying to achieve within this decade. The data sources for the report included the 2005 LA County Health Survey, other Los Angeles Public Health Department programs, the California Health Interview Survey, and the California Department of Education.

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