Although advances in the social and medical sciences have contributed to Americans living longer, healthier lives, achieving health equality continues to be a seemingly insurmountable task due to social, economic, and environmental disparities. Health disparities impact individuals and groups throughout the US, and some of the most dramatic disparities are found within racial/ethnic minority communities. The purpose of this study was to better understand the health of minority youth living in a Southern state near the US-Mexico border. Specifically, we sought to describe their health literacy (HL) and health-related quality of life (HRQOL), and identify how those concepts may be interrelated.
We collaborated with three after-school programs to recruit high-school-aged youth living within 150 miles of the US-Mexico border. Students who returned signed forms were asked by members of the research team to review study procedures, provide assent, and complete a survey on basic demographic and health information. Once a participant had completed their survey, they were taken to a private area and were administered two HL assessments by a trained member of the research team. The option to use Spanish language materials was offered to participants. A final sample of 102 youth ages 14-19 participated (female = 56%; M age = 15.89; SD = 1.54).
The largest racial/ethnic group in our study was Mexican American youth, comprising 48% of our sample, with Black American youth next at 20%. It is worth noting that 12% of our sample identified as multi-racial, and 14% did not report their race/ethnicity, possibly due to the delicate nature of race along the US-Mexico border. The HL assessment showed that 30% participants were highly likely to have limited HL, and 76% were either highly likely or had the possibility of limited HL. A high percentage of youth were found to be at-risk of poor HRQOL. More than one-third (34%) of youth were deemed at-risk based on their total score, with 21% in the at-risk range within the physical sub-category. Over half of participants (52%) scored in the at-risk category within the psychosocial domain.
Conclusions and Implications:
Regrettably, these findings are consistent with many other studies suggesting that racial/ethnic minorities continue to suffer some of the greatest health disparities, and that communities near the US-Mexico border experience heightened risk for health-related problems. Schools near the US-Mexico border should be aware of the health challenges facing their students, and may consider including practical, culturally competent health education into their curriculum. For example, schools might include information on obtaining health insurance, seeking preventative care, or cooking healthy meals on a budget. These curricular suggestions are consistent with recent legislation (i.e., the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015), which tracks health outcomes and attempts to view adolescents’ lives more holistically in school settings. In conjunction with education providers, creating or expanding outreach health services via additional support and funding from local, state, or federal reserves may be necessary.