Understanding ethnic/racial health disparities in youth and families in the US

Gustavo Carlo, Lisa J Crockett, Miguel A Carranza, Miriam M Martinez
Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 2011, 57: 1-11
To summarize, ethnic and social class disparities are evident across a spectrum of markers of psychological, behavioral, and physical health. Furthermore, the pattern is often complex such that disparities are sometimes found within ethnic/racial groups as well as across those groups. Indeed, it is likely that the causes of health disparities may be different across specific subgroups. Moreover, theoretical models are needed that examine biological, contextual, and person-level variables (including culture-specific variables) to account for health disparities. The scholars in the present volume provide exemplary research that moves us towards more comprehensive and integrative models of health disparities. A brief glance at the work summarized by these scholars yields some common elements of focus for future researchers regarding risk (e.g., poverty, lack of contextual diversity) and protective (e.g., family support, cultural identity) factors yet they also identify aspects (e.g., genetic vulnerabilities) that may be unique to specific ethnic/racial groups. In addition to employing more integrative and culturally sensitive models of health disparities, future research studies could expand the scope of investigation to include transnational studies of health disparities and the processes contributing to them. They might also consider culture-specific health problems and syndromes such as "nervios" in Latino cultures. Within nations, further attention might be directed to the community contexts in which ethnic minority and low SES families reside, not only urban areas but the much less studied rural areas. Finally, efforts to assess health disparities and the factors contributing to them across cultural and ethnic groups need to attend closely to the issue of measurement equivalence in order to ensure valid cross-group comparisons. We would add that future research on health disparities will need to examine markers of positive health outcomes and well being (e.g., social competence) rather than focusing solely on risk and protective factors associated with health-related problems. We cannot assume that the relative absence of negative pathology and risk equals the presence of health and well being-thus research is needed that includes both positive and negative health outcomes. More attention to positive health indicators will further our understanding of normative, positive health outcomes and lead us away from traditional deficit and pathology-focused models of ethnic minorities. Finally, the scholars in this volume all present findings that have important implications for policy and intervention efforts-the lessons learned from their efforts should be heeded if we are to comprehensively and effectively address the existing health disparities in the US.


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