health challenges of an aging population, as the prevalence1 of chronic conditions increases with age. Dramatic increases in the prevalence of many of these conditions since 1970 are expected to continue (DeVol et al., 2007). Increasing obesity levels in the United States have compounded the problem, as obesity is related to many chronic conditions.

  • An aging population—According to the most recent census projections, the proportion of the U.S. population aged 65 or older is expected to rise from 12.7 percent in 2008 to 19.3 percent in 2030 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008), in part as a result of increases in life expectancy and the aging of the Baby Boom generation. As the population continues to age, a dramatic growth in demand for health care services will be seen (IOM, 2008).

  • A more diverse population—Minority groups, which currently make up about a third of the U.S. population, are projected to become the majority by 2042 and 54 percent of the total population by 2050 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Diversity exists not only among but also within various ethnic and racial groups with respect to country of origin, primary language, immigrant status and generation, socioeconomic status, history, and other cultural features.

  • Health disparities—Health disparities are inequities in the burden of disease, injury, or death experienced by socially disadvantaged groups relative to either whites or the general population. Such groups may be categorized by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or income. Health disparities among these groups are driven in part by deleterious socioenvironmental conditions and behavioral risk factors, and in part by systematic biases that often result in unequal, inferior treatment (IOM, 2003b).

  • Limited English proficiency—The number of people living in the United States with limited English proficiency is increasing (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). To be effective, care and health information must be accessible and offered in a manner that is understandable, as well as culturally relevant (IOM, 2004a; Joint Commission, 2007). While there are national standards for linguistically and culturally relevant health care services, the rapid growth of diverse populations with limited English proficiency and varying cultural and health practices is emerging as an increasingly complex challenge that few health care providers and organizations are currently prepared to handle (HHS Office of Minority Health, 2007).


Prevalence defines the total number of individuals with a condition, and incidence refers to the number of new cases reported in a given year.

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