Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that racism seriously threatens public health. Why is this important? Not only is it a major acknowledgment that racism affects people’s health on both large and small scales, it also allows the CDC to allocate funding to help understand and address the issue.
According to the CDC, racism can show up in the way an individual patient is treated with stigma or bias by their doctor. Or it can show up in the larger structural barriers that, for instance, can make it more difficult for many communities of color to access affordable high-quality health care on an ongoing basis.
“These social determinants of health have lifelong negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H. in a statement. “Over generations, these structural inequities have resulted in stark racial and ethnic health disparities that are severe, far-reaching, and unacceptable.”
The organization also addressed the effects of the long term stress created by racism and how it impacts the health disparities seen in people of color, particularly Black people. Not only do they experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their White counterparts, but the life expectancy of non-Hispanic/Black Americans is four years lower than that of white Americans.
Additionally, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people have a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes, including death, according to CDC data. Black people are also more likely to die in childbirth, to die from melanoma, and to develop and die from colorectal cancer than white people. “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,” said Dr. Walensky.
While this news may overwhelming and not especially surprising (especially if you’re a person of color), there was a silver lining. The CDC also announced several new initiatives that they’re undertaking to address racism’s effects on public health, including more research, expanded infrastructure in communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and a new official CDC page dedicated to educating the public about the effects of racism on health.