Utah blacks may make up a sliver of the population, but they face significant health challenges, according to a report released Thursday.
They smoke and lack health insurance at twice the rate of all Utahns. Nearly half of pregnant women don't get adequate prenatal care, more than double the overall rate. And a black baby has twice the risk of death than babies of other races.
The data was released by the Utah Department of Health's Center for Multicultural Health, which will also shortly release reports on other minorities. The goal is to better inform the community and help the health department focus its efforts.
Blacks make up 1.5 percent of Utah's population, or almost 40,000 people. But the data shows they should be a priority, said Betty Sawyer, director of the Harambee African American Tobacco and Health Network, a faith-based health group.
"We'll definitely be taking this to the churches to help them better understand what's going on," she said.
One of the state's main areas of concern is births. Laurie Baksh, a state reproductive health epidemiologist, said much of the high rate of infant death is due to the similarly high rate of premature births among blacks. In general, half of premature births are from maternal or fetal illnesses and the other half have no explanation.
The health department received a $1 million federal grant to promote getting women healthy before they become pregnant because prenatal care can be too late. The focus will be on low-income women and minorities, including blacks.
The department had hoped to expand eligibility for Medicaid so more women could qualify for prenatal care. Instead, lawmakers will consider axing coverage for some pregnant women to cut the state budget.
Lawmakers are also considering eliminating the multicultural health center.
Steve Alder, chief of the University of Utah's division of public health and director of its Office of Global Health, praised the report.
"It highlights the need to think about how we can tailor our efforts to try and bring up different populations to have the standard of health we've come to expect in our society," he said.
Poverty is partly to blame, he said. The percentage of blacks living in poverty, 20 percent, is twice the rate of all Utahns. Racism also is a factor, Sawyer said.