This article was originally published in the Healthy Aging Initiative's February newsletter. The Initiative, an offering of Extension, provides physical activity and nutrition education and health promotion to elders throughout Nevada.
Your income level, race or ethnicity, age, sex or gender, or geography should not stop you from being healthy or living a healthy lifestyle. But, in many instances, it does. Health inequities occur in all walks of life, in rural and urban areas, to both men and women, and to the young and the old and exist in nearly every aspect of health.
The National Institutes of Health defines health disparities as, “the differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.”
What does that mean? It means that whole groups of people can face significant obstacles to maintaining good health, often because of specific genetic, social or economic factors. These factors can be based on many of the factors above or others such as disability, sexual orientation, immigration status, religion or mental health conditions.
Nevada has significant health disparities. Some are due to the vast geographic distances and population bias between the state’s two urban areas (Clark and Washoe counties) and the remaining 14 counties. This can result in a lack of resources or access to things such as health care providers, medical facilities, safe places to walk or fresh produce. The Centers for Disease Control published a rural health fact sheet in 2019 that indicated that rural residents often have limited access to healthy foods and fewer opportunities to be physically active compared to their urban counterparts. This limited access can lead to conditions such as obesity and high blood pressure. Nevada is no different.
Nevada’s health disparities can be seen in the number and populations that acquire certain chronic diseases. Chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, some cancers, respiratory disease, diabetes and liver disease represent five of the top 10 leading causes of death within our state. In Nevada, these health problems are most often found among American Indians, Asian Pacific Islanders and Blacks of non-Hispanic descent. Many of these chronic diseases can be prevented by increased access to healthy foods and fresh produce, an increase in physical activity and movement, and more frequent visits to your health professionals for preventative or routine checkups.
Natalie Mazzullo is Extension's Healthy Aging coordinator and associate director for the Nevada Geriatric Education Center at the Sanford Center for Aging, a unit of the University’s School of Medicine.
Extension is a unit of the University's College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources engaged in Nevada communities, presenting research-based knowledge to address critical community needs. It is a county-state-federal partnership providing practical education to people, businesses and communities.