Understanding and addressing the impact of structural racism on health is essential to building equity in health.
Racism is the reason for large, sustained health inequities in the United States. Four overview articles in this month’s Health Affairs orient the reader to the complex relationship between racism and health. Other articles provide new evidence, analysis, and narratives on the topic.
Our history is filled with policies, from zoning codes to lending rules, specifically established to promote and maintain segregation.
Evidence for Action: Innovative Research to Advance Racial Equity Call for Proposals
This initiative prioritizes research to evaluate specific interventions (e.g., policies, programs, practices) that have the potential to counteract the harms of structural and systemic racism and improve health, well-being, and equity outcomes. Learn more and apply.
Racism and its associated injustices have created barriers for people of color since the beginnings of our nation. We see its effects in all of our systems, from unequal medical care to discrimination in housing, employment, education, and the justice system—and beyond.
How does racism affect health?
Research shows that this history of individual and structural racism spanning generations denies opportunity to people of color and robs them of their physical and mental health. The life expectancy of people of color is often a decade or more shorter than their White neighbors just a few blocks away. They face a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and mental illness. And babies born to Black women are more than twice as likely to die in the first year of life as babies born to White women.
These health inequities, and often the diseases themselves, stem in part from the stress of being silenced, ignored, oppressed, and targeted for violence.
In connection with past and current Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) programs aimed at reducing health inequities and advancing health equity, this collection includes research findings and perspectives on the connections between race, racism and health.
To reach a Culture of Health, we must be honest about the fact that too many people in the United States start behind, and stay behind, because they don’t have the same opportunities as others. If we don’t focus on and tackle structural racism, we simply can’t make progress toward health equity in America.
Resources and Perspectives by David Williams, PhD, MPH, RWJF Trustee
- Everyday Discrimination Scale
- Understanding Racial-Ethnic Disparities in Health: Sociological Contributions
- Stress was already killing black Americans. Covid-19 is making it worse.
- COVID-19 and Health Equity—A New Kind of “Herd Immunity”
- Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study
- Why Discrimination is a Health Issue
Read the AJPH article
Racism shapes virtually every aspect of life, opportunity, and well-being. It harms individuals and hurts the health of our nation by unfairly lifting up some and oppressing others. It is also the driving force of social determinants of health, including education, housing, and employment.
Featured Program: Forward Promise
This RWJF initiative aims to promote opportunities for boys and young men of color to heal, grow, and thrive in the face of chronic stress and trauma.Learn more
In a USA Today op-ed, Richard Besser, RWJF’s president and CEO, discusses changes that the Foundation is making to its annual Sports Award program to more clearly recognize racism and discrimination as factors in health.
The Ferguson Commission focused on guiding the St. Louis region in charting a new path toward healing and positive change after the death of Michael Brown, Jr. Their work resulted in a guide for communities needing to heal from racial truama.