Chronic disease is the leading killer of Missourians older than 35, and blacks exhibit a much higher risk of suffering from some of these diseases.
The Missouri Hospital Association, in a report released last week, said chronic diseases — including heart disease, diabetes and cancer — accounted for 64 percent of deaths in Missouri in 2001.
Nationwide, chronic diseases account for 1.7 million, or 70 percent, of all deaths, the report said.
Statistics in the Missouri report show that minorities have a higher rate of certain chronic diseases, which are defined by health officials as conditions that last a year or longer, limit what a person can do and might require ongoing medical care.
“There are frightening statistics on how many more diseases impact African Americans,” said Dianne Lowry, community liaison for the Paula J. Carter Center, an organization dedicated to the health needs of the minority, elderly and disabled populations.
Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer are among the more prominent chronic diseases that affect blacks at an increased rate, Lowry said. The Paula J. Carter Center has found that blacks in Missouri are 35 percent more likely to die from stroke, heart disease and cancer than non-Hispanic whites.
Minority adults are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, Lowry said.
State and local health officials attribute this higher risk to many factors.
“It is an extremely complex problem,” said Leslie Porth, vice president of health improvement with the Missouri Hospital Association. “I think one of the critical factors to evaluate is access to health-care services.”
Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health, said access for minorities remains a primary concern in Boone County.
“I think there is certainly a difference in people’s insurance coverage and their ability to pay,” Browning said.
Of the 19,301 Boone County residents on Medicaid in July 2003, 28.7 percent, or 5,534, of them were black. According to the 2000 census, blacks constituted 8.5 percent of the county’s population.
“We don’t really know why some of the disparities exist,” Lowry said. “Societal factors, such as economic conditions and living conditions, certainly impact a person’s health.”
Sherri Homan, principal assistant for chronic disease with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said there are programs throughout the state that attempt to address the problem of chronic disease.
“Within these programs, they have different initiatives that are devoted specifically toward minorities,” she said.
Homan said the state is working through African-American churches to provide health programs on diabetes, heart disease and strokes.
“The responsibility to improve the way we manage chronic disease is both the responsibility of the individual and within the community,” Porth said.
The report said chronic diseases cost the state $1.6 billion annually in care for frail and elderly people who receive both Medicare and Medicaid. Eighty percent of those Medicaid funds and 97 percent of Medicare funds are used to treat people suffering from chronic diseases.