Being a person of color in America is bad for your health. That’s the theme of a new op-ed written by David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Writing in U.S. News and World Report, Williams and Lavizzo-Mourey say that acknowledging the links between racism and poor health will be critical to closing the health equity gap.
In the U.S., health disparities between blacks and whites run deep. For example, blacks have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups, and black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children. Williams and Lavizzio-Moruey write that geography plays a large role in all of this because, “where we live determines opportunities to access high-quality education, employment, housing, fresh foods or outdoor space – all contributors to our health.”
The authors write that some cities have been successful in reducing health inequities. In Philadelphia, a focus on prioritizing physical activity in schools and improving access to fresh foods has helped childhood obesity rates fall by 6.3% in the last seven years, with the biggest drops among black and Asian children.
According to Williams and Lavizzo-Mourey there is no single solution to the societal racism and poverty that contribute to poor health, but they write that, “…we now know enough to improve the situation. Health builds from where we live, learn, work and play – and only secondarily in the doctor’s office.”