(45) Racial disparities in rates of disease

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News stories often try to clarify disparities in disease risk across populations. E.g., the disease is more common in this group vs. that group. This display tries to convey not only that one group’s risk is more but also just how much more.

What’s special about this image?

This simple, info-graphic highlights the difference in rates between two racial groups. Key features include (a) clear statement of the denominator and (b) the way that it presents the absolute difference in risk using easily understandable “more people” language. This latter step is particularly important to help people with lower numeracy skills make sense of such data.

The darker color number/text is unfortunately an ambiguous cue here. Is it highlighting the larger risk or simply indicating the darker skin coloration of African-Americans? It is unclear how color cues would best be used for representing disparities.

This graphic raised perceptions of population-level risk disparities. It also resulted in lower gist accuracy regarding which group is at higher risk. Depending on the goals of your communication, you can decide whether the increase in risk perceptions is worth the potential distortion of knowledge.
  • My goal
  • Differences in likelihood
  • Raise or lower concern
  • Details or gist?
  • Gist understanding
  • Data I have
  • Risk disparity
  • Population risks
  • Health conditions
  • Cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Graphic type
  • Tables