Health Disparities in Minority Children

Dr. Angela Seabright

| 3 min read

Dr. Angela Seabright, D.O., is a board-certified family medicine physician....

Comprehensive studies over the past five years found that Black and Hispanic children in the U.S. receive worse medical care than their white peers. This includes inequitable treatment across pediatric specialties like neonatal care, primary care, emergency medicine, critical care, mental health care, end-of-life care and much more.
Overcoming inequities like these – born out of systemic racism – requires policy changes that advance health justice on federal, state and local levels. Minority Health Month is an opportunity to bring awareness to these disparities. Recognition is an important step in reducing health disparities and promoting health equity.

Key health disparities in pediatric care

Black, Hispanic, and other minority infants consistently receive lower quality health care services across the board, but research has pointed to a few key areas of pediatric care that are particularly alarming. They include:
Asthma care: Even though Black children suffer more severe asthma episodes than their white counterparts, they are less likely to be transported to the hospital by emergency medical services (EMS), according to a new study. Non-Hispanic Black children are about three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than white children, according to 2020 data.
Developmental disabilities: Early intervention is crucial for improving outcomes for children with developmental disabilities. Yet Black, Asian and Latino children with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are diagnosed at a later age and with more severe symptoms than white children. Children of non-white ethnic and racial backgrounds are also less likely to receive specialty services.
Diabetes care: Studies have consistently found that white children receive insulin pump therapy significantly more often than Black and Hispanic children, despite being adjusted for factors like annual income, parental education and insurance type. Additionally, psychosocial effects of diabetes are consistent with these disparities, as studies have found the emotional burden of caring for diabetes tends to be higher among minority families, resulting in higher rates of diabetes burnout.
Pain management: Strong evidence of care disparity has been uncovered in pain management. Disparities have been documented in the use of opioid pain relievers for children who present with painful conditions such as broken bones, migraines and appendicitis.

Possible factors contributing to health disparities among minority children

Causes of inequities are wide-ranging but for the issues listed above and other inequities in care, these factors play a role:
  • Individual and behavioral factors
  • Implicit bias
  • Educational and employment inequalities
  • Language barriers
  • Inadequate access to health care

Why it’s important for health care providers to check their unconscious bias

Sweeping policy changes could take years to implement if they happen at all. In the meantime, it’s important for health care providers to check their own practices for biases.
Implicit bias is a type of bias that develops early in life from repeated reinforcement of social stereotypes. It is defined as a negative, unconscious attitude toward a specific social group or groups. Clinicians – like all people – have implicit biases. Though health care providers abide by the oath to “do no harm” while practicing medicine, unintended biases can still occur during interactions with patients.
Health care providers can take immediate action to manage the effects of implicit bias with ongoing skill-building training. Implicit bias training is part of the multipronged approach to promoting equitable health for all.
Dr. Angela Seabright is a care management physician at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, guidance and content, visit MIBluesPerspectives.com.
Photo credit: Getty Images
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association