Not long ago, during the pre-epidemic of 2019, the reported life expectancy at birth of non-Spanish, non-Spanish, and Spanish people was about 75, 79, and 82 years respectively. The high life expectancy of Spaniards compared with others in the United States may surprise some.
This practice, known as “the Spanish controversy,” first came to light in the 1980’s, and its legitimacy has been debated ever since. Many definitions have been suggested, including ideas about “healthy immigrants” (US immigrants are healthier than those living in their home countries) and “salmon bias” (unhealthy American immigrants are more likely to return to their home countries). Some experts point out that Spanish communities have lower levels of smoking and higher levels of social cohesion, which may have an impact on what is expected to be a high life expectancy. In the end, this difference remains unclear, and it continues to be difficult with studies showing that US-born Spaniards may have a lower life expectancy compared to their foreign counterparts.
Now, recent life-limiting estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show alarming changes highlighting the unequal impact of COVID-19 on color communities. Between 2019 and 2020, life expectancy has dropped significantly between black and Spanish people compared to their white counterparts, by three years, two years and one year, respectively. In fact, the life expectancy gap between black and white people has grown from four to six years, the largest gap since 1998. And profits in the Spanish-dominated life span decreased from three to two years. In other words, the COVID-19 epidemic has led to a decline in life expectancy among all US people, but this effect has been felt most frequently by colored communities.
Many reasons for the high risk of COVID-19
Many factors have contributed to this unequal decline in life. But these remarkable numbers remind us of the vulnerability of Blacks, Indigenous Peoples, and People of color (BIPOC) in the US, the result of long-term unequal access to health care and the resources needed to achieve higher economic growth. Many BIPOC people in the US live on the brink of collapse. With little health or financial savings, these communities are at risk of being hit by sudden events, such as the financial collapse of the early 2000s or the global epidemic.
Prejudice is largely based on structural barriers that benefit certain groups and undermine others. Instead of causing new differences, the COVID-19 epidemic has already highlighted the ongoing failures in our social systems and health delivery of our BIPOC communities. Recently, the CDC acknowledged this and declared that racism is a public health threat to the health and well-being of the people of BIPOC.
Long-term failure of the system leads to poor overall health
Abnormally high exposure and stress during pregnancy and childhood lead to the continuous release of stress-related inflammatory hormones such as cortisol, leading to toxic levels of chronic depression. Discrimination causes chronic stress, which negatively affects the growth and well-being of BIPOC children. In addition, many BIPOC children have little chance of prosperity. They live in areas plagued by widespread poverty resulting from long-term discrimination policies such as redevelopment and segregation of settlements. These factors combined, ultimately lead to higher rates of heart disease, mental illness and life-threatening behaviors. Known as weathering, this contributes to reducing the life expectancy and healthspan (a period of life when a person is in good health).
In addition, BIPOC people in the US are continually facing barriers to accessing quality health care. Examples include higher insurance rates and lower insurance, as well as lower health education. Widespread discrimination and discriminatory policies have become deeply entrenched in our healthcare delivery infrastructure. Therefore, the findings of the CDC report should come as no surprise: the community that has been permanently denied access to anticipated prevention services is expected to go awry during the epidemic.
Moving forward: What changes can help?
We can all raise our voices to plead for and support the efforts of government officials at all levels, as well as health care leaders, to address existing inequalities related to the ongoing epidemic and the ongoing flaws that leave BIPOC communities at great risk. Below are a few steps you can take to begin the process of repair.
Ordinary citizens can
Vote for all elections - especially local elections. Elected local officials, such as the mayor, city manager, members of the city council, and the district sheriff, can affect the lives of citizens even more than government or state officials. Local news media and websites may have information on policy views and tracking records to help you select candidates. Beware of news that is not being promoted on social media. Social media puts a lot of information in our hands, but it also provides ways to spread false information that can greatly affect our decisions. Try to maintain a healthy level of skepticism. Check information on trusted sources. These general suggestions can help you to avoid becoming a victim of misinformation. Support local organizations. Non-profit organizations and civil society organizations play a key role in helping to address the COVID-19 inequalities affecting BIPOC communities and advocating for testing and equity vaccines. If you are financially secure, consider donating to local nonprofits, food banks, and community organizations so that they can continue to provide relief aid.