Health Disparities: The Importance of Culture and Health Communication

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Thomas, Stephen B.
Fine, Michael J.
Ibrahim, Said A.
Thomas, Stephen B. and Fine, Michael J. and Ibrahim, Said A. (2004) Health Disparities: The Importance of Culture and Health Communication. American Journal of Public Health, 94 (12). p. 2050.
The root causes of health disparities are numerous and relate to individual behaviors, provider knowledge and attitudes, organization of the health care system, and societal and cultural values. Disparities have been well documented,even in systems that provide unencumbered access to health care, such as the VA Healthcare System, suggesting that factors other than access to care (e.g., culture and health communication) are responsible. Efforts to eliminate health disparities must be informed by the influence of culture on the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of not only minority populations but also public health policymakers and the health professionals responsible for the delivery of medical services and public health interventions designed to close the health gap. There is credible evidence suggesting that cultural norms within Western societies contribute to lifestyles and behaviors associated with risk factors for chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes and cardiovascular disease). This is the context in which smoking cessation, increased physical activity, and dietary regulation are prime targets for intervention.