Why We Still Need More Detailed Data to Advance Health Equity

By Samantha Artiga
April 30, 2021

Samantha Artiga is the Vice President and Director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at KFF and a member of the 2021 Tradeoffs Research Council. Her work focuses on the intersection of racism and discrimination, social and economic inequities, and health.

The stark disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color have contributed to increased attention to long-standing disparities in health and health care. There also has been growing recognition of the importance of data in identifying disparities and addressing them as well as the dearth of such data.

This month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers Tamara Rushovich, Marion Boulicault, Jarvis Chen, Ann Caroline Danielsen, Amelia Tarrant, Sarah Richardson and Heather Shattuck-Heidorn provide further evidence of the value of comprehensive disaggregated data. Using publicly available data from Georgia and Michigan, they examined how disparities in COVID-19 mortality rates by sex vary by racial group. They find that men are 1.3 to nearly 2 times as likely to die from COVID-19 compared with women in all racial groups, and that Black men and women are anywhere from 2 to more than 6 times as likely to die from COVID-19 as white and Asian/Pacific Islander men and women. (The data did not include ethnicity, so the analysis does not include Hispanic/Latinx populations.) 

The data also reveal more complex patterns and relationships. For example, the researchers find the mortality rate among Black women exceeds the rates for both white and Asian/Pacific Islander women and men. Moreover, the difference in the risk of death between men and women was larger for Black men and women compared to white men and women. 

While prior analyses have identified racial disparities in COVID-19 health outcomes and found that men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women, this analysis provides a new understanding of the interaction between sex and race and COVID-19 outcomes. It shows that while men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women, Black women are dying at greater rates than white or Asian/Pacific Islander men. The findings illustrate how examining disparities across a single dimension (like race or sex) can provide an incomplete picture, and they highlight the value of assessing how multiple, intersectional factors shape disparities. 

Overall, the ability to examine disparities across multiple dimensions for COVID-19 (and more broadly) remains limited due to the lack of comprehensive disaggregated data at the federal, state and local level. Increasing the availability of this data would allow for a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of disparities, which, in turn, could better inform and shape efforts to address them and advance equity. 

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