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Health disparities: A genetic issue?

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

By Samantha Dong


Before tackling this in depth question, what are health disparities? There are preventable differences in the quality of health, health care and outcomes in disadvantaged populations including based on race, education, income ect.. Here we will focus on race. Understanding the impact of genetics on health disparities is essential in creating equitable healthcare.


Starting at the roots of the issue of the long time racism. From having to work in toxic environments to living in them people a lot of minorities and low-income people suffer the most. This generational issue has impacted more than just their surface level lifestyle. It has affected their health as well. The toxic environment one is surrounded by can factor into changes in genes and biology.

Ethnic and racial backgrounds are associated with unique genetic profiles due to ancestral differences. Certain genetic variants are more prevalent in certain populations which makes them more susceptible to certain diseases. An example is individuals of African descent have a higher chance of genetic variants associated with sickle cell anemia, hypertension and diabetes, whereas cystic fibrosis is more common among individuals of European descent. Another example is those of south Asian descent having an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as Native Americans being more prone to cardiovascular diseases. Racial minorities groups have higher rate of illness and health conditions.


While genetics may lead to increased risk of diseases, health care worsens the outcomes for these people, creating an even bigger problem. A lot of these minorities are low-income where they don’t have adequate health insurance, meaning they cannot get the proper treatment. So these illnesses go unaddressed and will lead to worsened illness. Additionally limited access to genetic testing can result in under-diagnosis or delayed diagnosis of genetic conditions, leading to unequal treatment and outcomes. As well as disparities in healthcare resources, including preventive care, early detection, and specialized interventions, can disproportionately affect certain populations. Genetics alone doesn’t explain health disparities but it is a factor that has affected people for generations. Genetics plays a multifaceted role in health disparities.


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