Minority women in L.A. County found to have higher rates of chronic disease

Times Staff Writer

Minority women living in Los Angeles County suffer disproportionate rates of chronic disease, according to a study released Wednesday by public health officials that examined the relationship between ethnicity and women’s health.

Women in general have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, asthma and depression than men, the data showed, and minority women are at higher risk for many such ailments.

Since 1995, diabetes mortality rates among women have risen 13%, with concentrations in South Los Angeles, the Antelope Valley and the southeast part of the county.


The two leading causes of death among women overall were heart disease and stroke.

Particularly startling, rates of obesity among all women have climbed to 20%.

Close to half of women in the county reported little to no physical activity -- compared with one-third of men. More women than ever are obese, with the largest increases among Latinas and African Americans. More than a quarter of Latinas and a third of African American women were considered obese.

The study, compiled primarily from 2005 data, linked poverty, lack of healthcare and health insurance and other socioeconomic factors to poor health.

The highest percentages of overweight and obese women live in poorer parts of the county, including Central and South Los Angeles and parts of the Antelope Valley, the report said.

African American women had the highest mortality rate of any group, with more than half at risk for developing heart disease, compared with 38% of Latinas, 36% of whites and 27% of Asians and Pacific Islanders, according to the report. African American women also smoked more and breast-fed less than other women, the report found.

“What always is stunning, whether you expect it or not, is how large the disparities are,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county’s public health director.

Fielding pointed to the importance of factors such as poverty, health insurance, education and neighborhood violence in determining women’s health. Nearly half of county women live in poverty, the study found.

The report also broke out data on ethnic subgroups, highlighting the contrasts among them.

For example, more women from Central America live in poverty, without insurance or regular healthcare, compared with other Latinas.

Additionally, Korean women are far less likely to be physically active or receive healthcare than other Asians.

To try to help residents improve their health, the county has led stop-smoking efforts, provided mobile cancer screening, helped uninsured people enroll in Medi-Cal and offered multilingual healthcare referrals, among other outreach programs, Fielding said.

“There’s no magic bullet here,” Fielding said. “There’s a thousand different things that we have to do with partners in order to make a difference.”

County public health officials are hosting a women’s health policy summit today with health experts and elected officials.

The study, published with the county office of women’s health, was compiled from a number of sources, primarily a 2005 random phone survey of 8,600 self-reporting adults in Los Angeles County.