Declaring racism a public health crisis brings more attention to solving long-ignored racial gaps in health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has joined hundreds of cities and counties across the country in declaring racism a public health threat. On April 8, 2021, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky called racism an epidemic that affects “the entire health of our nation.”

Declaring racism a public health threat will create a sharper strategic and operational focus on understanding and combating racism. Walensky said the CDC will invest more in communities of color and will work to create more diversity within the CDC.

The agency will create a portal on the CDC site called “Racism and Health” to help provide resources and to educate people.

Acknowledging racism as a public health threat allows for the creation of workforce training programs in public health, medicine, nursing and other fields. It also may require all health-related professional training programs to include structural racism identification and implied bias and anti-racism strategies within the curriculum. This will put a sharper focus on the measurement of the factors that influence racism.

Designating racism as a public health emergency can create institutional focus on actions taken to address this long-overlooked issue.

The U.S. pays more per capita for health care than any other industrialized nation in the world, but look at the health statistics and you’ll see the U.S. brings up the rear. Canada, Japan, Malta, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland do better. Among the industrialized countries, the U.S.‘s health system is currently ranked 37th in the world.

Health is a result of many factors. The most striking one has nothing to do with intelligence, diet or job status. Instead, it’s a person’s ZIP code. Where someone lives is the greatest predictor of health and life expectancy. A person’s ZIP code is also a good predictor of their race and ethnicity. Those things too have a major impact on how long someone lives and, maybe even more importantly, how well.

In the U.S., our infant mortality – babies who die before their first birthday – is among the highest in the world, with the highest rates in the Midwest and South. Across the board, infant mortality affects Black communities at a rate higher than other races.

Being born Black also means you’re twice as likely to suffer from high blood pressure and have a stroke. Black Americans are also more than five times as likely to serve prison time and will earn substantially less money then their white neighbors. And people of color are up to 10 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19.

Where you live, how much you earn, your access to transportation and your ability to shop at a supermarket in your neighborhood are all part of the powerful predictors of how long and how well people live.

Decades of discriminatory housing practices have burdened Black communities with poverty, substandard housing and environmental hazards. Unfortunately, most federally assisted housing is located in segregated areas at a greater risk of lead poisoning, exposure to air pollution or lack of access to healthy food.

Nearly 18% of the U.S. economy goes toward health-care spending. That is many times the investment of many other countries that enjoy substantially better health – such countries as France, Italy, Singapore, Colombia, Saudi Arabia and Denmark.

Of the $3.8 trillion spent on health care, public health and prevention is allocated less than 3% of this gigantic budget. However, a 2018 report showed a 3-1 return on investment on public health funding.

Treating racism like the disease that the CDC says it is suggests boosting our investment in public health funding would be money well spent.

Ohio Capital Journal

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