The racial disparity in COVID-19 pandemic narrows, but equity in health programs is still lacking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked deaths by race, and its data show that the COVID-19 death rate among Black people is twice that of white people. It’s 2.3 times higher in the Latino population, and 2.4 times greater among Native Americans. Again, serious and chronic underlying health conditions are a primary factor in COVID-19 death. In 2018, according to the GAO, “Black Americans died from diabetes in 2018 at a rate 1.2 times higher than American Indians and Alaska Natives, 1.9 times higher than Whites, and 2.3 times higher than Asians and Pacific Islanders.”

A bit of improvement, according to the White House, is that “vaccination rates in Black Americans compared to Whites and Latinos has closed. Data show that more than 70% of Black Americans, 73% of Latinos and 71% of White Americans have received at least one shot, compared to 56%, 57%, and 65%, respectively, in May.”

But the federal government needs to do more. “The toll of diet-related chronic health conditions in the United States is high and may worsen if current trends continue,” the GAO concluded in its assessment. ”In 2018, over half of deaths among adults were the result of conditions that, in some cases, could have been prevented with improved diet. And increases in adult obesity—including a 46 percent rise in severe obesity in approximately a decade—could be a bellwether for increases in other chronic health.”

In 2011, the Obama administration developed a national prevention strategy, but it was centered in the White House, and not continued by the former guy’s administration. “In the absence of this or any other strategy,” GAO says, “federal officials are left without reasonable assurance that their extensive efforts are effective in reducing Americans’ risk of diet related chronic health conditions.” The agency recommends that Congress “consider identifying and directing a federal entity to lead the development and implementation of a federal strategy to coordinate diet-related efforts that aim to reduce Americans’ risk of chronic health conditions.”

That’s a start. But as the Kaiser Family Foundation notes from new analysis of CDC data, “many of the underlying structural inequities in health and health care and social and economic factors that placed people of color at increased risk early in the pandemic remain. They may remain at risk as the pandemic continues to evolve or if future health threats emerge.”

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