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Racism is a ‘serious public health threat’: People of color live four years fewer, CDC says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has become the largest U.S. health agency to identify racism as a ‘serious public health threat.’ 

On Thursday, the body launched a new initiative to take steps to address the effects of racism, saying the life expectancy of ‘non-Hispanic/Black Americans’ is four years lower than that of their white counterparts.

‘Racism – both interpersonal and structural – negatively affects the mental and physical health of millions of people, preventing them from attaining their highest level of health, and consequently, affecting the health of our nation,’ the CDC said on its website.

The agency said that the coronavirus pandemic and its ‘disproportionate impact among racial and ethnic minority populations’ had brought renewed attention to ‘enduring health disparities’ in the United States.  

On Thursday, the CDC launched a new initiative to take steps to address the effects of racism, saying the life expectancy of 'non-Hispanic/Black Americans' is four years lower than that of their white counterparts. Pictured: A Florida woman receives the Covid-19 vaccine at the St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa in January [File photo]

On Thursday, the CDC launched a new initiative to take steps to address the effects of racism, saying the life expectancy of ‘non-Hispanic/Black Americans’ is four years lower than that of their white counterparts. Pictured: A Florida woman receives the Covid-19 vaccine at the St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa in January [File photo]

CDC figures show that Black and Hispanic Americans are around three times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid-19 and around two times more likely to die from the virus than white Americans. 

Rather than genetics, factors known as ‘social determinants’ of health are to blame, scientists say. These non-medical factors include where people are born, their level of education and their access to housing and basic amenities. 

‘The word racism is intentional in this [initiative] for the CDC. This is not just about the color of your skin but also about where you live, where you work, where your children play, where you pray, how you get to work, the jobs you have. All of these things feed into people’s health and their opportunities for health,’ Dr Rochelle Walensky, who became CDC director in January, told Time Magazine. 

Dr Rochelle Walensky, who became CDC director in January, told Time Magazine that addressing the links between racism and health will be a key part of her directorship [File photo]

Dr Rochelle Walensky, who became CDC director in January, told Time Magazine that addressing the links between racism and health will be a key part of her directorship [File photo]

The agency has previously acknowledged the link between racism and health, but Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said the new initiative, called Racism and Health, is distinct in that it marks a shift in the organization’s role from observation to action.

The announced actions include ensuring the CDC’s efforts to address the impact of racism on public health are company wide. 

Walensky has asked all of the agency’s centers and offices to draft interventions and health outcomes to measure in the next year addressing racism in their respective areas – from childhood immunizations to nutrition, Time reported.

She said that in the two agency-wide meetings she had held since becoming director, she has made it clear that addressing racism is a priority. 

‘It had to be baked into the cake; it’s got to be part of what everybody is doing,’ she told Time.

The CDC has $2.25billion earmarked for addressing Covid-19 related health disparities, the magazine reported.

With this, it plans to not only continue its research into the links between race and health, but also build upon outreach efforts in minority communities established by the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

‘Now is the time because there is attention drawn to it, and resources drawn to it. We are making a concerted national effort to reach those who have not been reached because we are making ties to local folks and trusted messengers,’ Walensky told Time Magazine.

‘I just really want to make sure that as long as we are doing that effort, and reaching people where they are, that we do so in a way that will allow us to not only vaccinate them for COVID-19 today but vaccinate their children for any missed immunizations and treat their blood pressure and screen them for cancer and do all the things that have been long neglected because they lacked access.’                

The CDC has also pledged to increase diversity within its own workforce.

The agency is among dozens of public health bodies and medical organizations to identify racism as a public health threat in recent months.

These include the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association.  


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