Racism has been declared a serious public health threat by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The national public health agency released a statement this week highlighting several new initiatives its planned to address racism as a “fundamental driver of racial and ethnic health inequities” in the U.S.
The CDC has unveiled a new website “Racism and Health” that will serve as the agency’s hub for education, dialogue and directives dealing with the critical issue. Racism, defined by the CDC, is a “system — consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms—that assigns value and determines opportunity based on the way people look or the color of their skin.” It results in unfair conditions that provide advantages for some and disadvantage for others throughout society.
At the helm of this pivotal discovery is the CDC’s director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky. Within the statement, Dr. Walensky mentions that studies during the pandemic show communities of color experienced “disproportionate case counts and deaths.”
“Yet, the disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19,” she wrote. “Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism.”
It “directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” she continued. “As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation.”
The CDC is backing up its claim with data that proves minority groups throughout the U.S. experience higher rates of illness and death from conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, compared to their white counterparts. White Americans also live up to four more years than Black Americans.
“Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community,” the health agency’s site states.
Dr. Walensky has a plan. She’s laid out four concrete actions the CDC will initiate to address the centuries-old issue. First, the agency will continue to study the impact of social determinants on health outcomes and develop more evidence on how racism affects health and implement realistic solutions to conquer it. Second, with the COVID-19 funding the CDC has received, it plans to invest into minority communities to help establish a durable foundation that can address the coronavirus disparities. The agency is also looking within by looking to expand the diversity internally at the CDC, which headquarters is based in Atlanta, GA. Lastly, the aforementioned “Racism and Health” web portal will serve as a catalyst for scientific discourse regarding racism and its affects on health.
Dr. Walensky concluded her statement by saying “confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. I know that we can meet this challenge. I know that we can create an America where all people have the opportunity to live a healthy life when we each take responsibility and work together. I am committed to this work. I certainly hope you will lean in and join me.”