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Racial Disparity in Death Rate May Be Avoidable

About half of all deaths stem from treatable conditions, study finds,,

FRIDAY, April 24 (HealthDay News) -- Preventable or treatable health conditions account for nearly 70 percent of the difference in death rates between blacks and whites in the United States, a new study shows.

Overall, half of all deaths among Americans younger than 65 are caused by preventable or treatable conditions such as stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer, appendicitis and the flu, the researchers said.

Their analysis of data from 1980 to 2005 found that black women had a 42 percent higher risk of death than white women, whereas black men had a 30 percent higher risk than white men. Most of that increased risk was due to preventable and treatable conditions.

The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Our study shows that while much progress has been made, our health-care system is still failing to meet the very basic needs of some Americans," study author James Macinko said in a news release. "Many disparities can be conquered by focusing more on public policies that promote prevention and by ensuring that all Americans have access to good quality health care."

"As the nation turns its attention to health-care reform, we now know that much can be done to reduce racial and ethnic health-care disparities and to improve the health care for all Americans," he said. "We also have a lot to learn from other health-care systems that measure performance based on preventable deaths." Macinko conducted the study as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.

He and his research colleagues used "avoidable mortality" to measure the death disparity between blacks and whites in the United States. Avoidable mortality is defined as premature death in people younger than 65 from conditions responsive to medical care, public policy changes or behavior modifications. In the last decade, avoidable mortality in the United States has declined less rapidly than in other industrialized nations, according to background information in the news release.

"Avoidable mortality gives us one way to assess the shortcomings of our health-care system, particularly in the area of prevention," study co-author Irma T. Elo, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the news release. "It can help to identify where preventable disparities are greatest and aid in directing resources to where they can improve the health of vulnerable populations."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about minority health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: IQ Solutions Inc., news release, April 23, 2009

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