Despite advances in medical care, health disparities between socioeconomic groups continue to persist and, in some cases, even widen. For the audience at the Mitigating Infectious Diseases Symposium, relating the liberal arts to infectious disease shows how even great improvements in treatment and care can leave a portion of a population still suffering. The symposium was held on March 25 at the Lory Student Center.
Dr. Richard Miech, Professor and Chair of the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences, University of Colorado-Denver, presented his work on “Why Do Health Inequalities Persist: the role of Growing and Emerging Health Disparities,” during the daylong symposium, which also featured speakers and panel discussions on economics and epidemiology, and the ethics of infectious disease.
“The morbidity rate is three times higher for people with a lower versus higher level of education,” said Dr. Miech, who was unveiling the results of his research for the first time, following a three-year study. “What we see is that when we make progress in one area, say reducing health disparities in the treatment of polio or tuberculosis, the disparities move to another area. As causes of death change and become more salient, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, the disparity in those causes of death increases as well.”
In 2006, the death rate/100,000 for men ages 40-64 was 1,345 for those with less than a high school education, as compared to 460 for men with college or more. For women, the numbers were 808 for lower educational levels, compared to 280 for those with college or more. Healthy People 2010, a program through the National Institutes of Health, is looking to reduce health disparities through a multi-dimensional approach, including looking at the social justice elements of health disparities.
Looking to pinpoint a “why,” Dr. Miech pointed to the Fundamental Cause theory. This theory suggests that because persons of higher socioeconomic status have a broad range of flexible and multi-purpose resources that can be used to the advantage of their health, including knowledge, money, power, and social connections, they hold an advantage in warding off whatever particular threats to health exist at a given time. Dr. Miech’s study, one of only a few in this area, points to the need for additional social science studies that look at culture, social networks, health behaviors, and treatment awareness and their impact on health outcomes.
The Mitigating Infectious Diseases Symposium was sponsored by the Societal, Organizational, and Policy Cluster of the Infectious Disease Supercluster at Colorado State University.