Racism and Health

boy woman man and another woman


"Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks (which is what we call "race"), that unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources." -- APHA Past-President Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD

Racism structures opportunity and assigns value based on how a person looks. The result: conditions that unfairly advantage some and unfairly disadvantage others. Racism hurts the health of our nation by preventing some people the opportunity to attain their highest level of health.

Racism may be intentional or unintentional. It operates at various levels in society. Racism is a driving force of the social determinants of health (like housing, education and employment) and is a barrier to health equity.  

To achieve health equity and create the Healthiest Nation in One Generation, we must address injustices caused by racism. We must support actions at all levels to ensure equal opportunity for all.

How do we do that? Through racial healing (#RxRacialHealing). That means using a healing and heart-centered approach to get rid of the false belief that any people are superior to others based on their skin color.


Racism can shape decisions to practice in underserved communities (from APHA's The Nation's Health)

APHA President Pam Aaltonen: "Let's respond to this growing problem by examining hatred and racism through a public health lens."

Testifying before the  Helsinki Commission, Gail Christopher details innovative approach toward eliminating racism and facilitating healing in the United States 

Programs work from within to prevent black maternal deaths: Workers targeting root cause — Racism (from APHA's The Nation's Health)

Achieving environmental justice in the 21st century: The way forward (APHA/National Environmental Health Partnership Council webinar)

Historic lynching tied to mortality today (from APHA's The Nation's Health)

Why ending police violence is a public health issue: A Q & A with APHA's Georges Benjamin (APHA member login required)

APHA supports National Day of Racial Healing (APHA news release)

APHA's Georges Benjamin on Severe weather disasters, health & structural racism: a critical intersection

From CNN: Charlottesville, hate crimes are public health issue, experts say 

APHA's four-part webinar series, The Impact of Racism on the Health and Well-Being of the Nation

AJPH editorial: "Black Lives Matter: A Commentary on Racism and Public Health"


APHA Policy Statements
American Journal of Public Health
Current Initiatives and Resource Guides
Public Health Newswire

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Annual Report (2015). FOR 2016, LET’S REVIVE THE PASSION FOR RACIAL EQUITY A letter from La June Montgomery Tabron, President & CEO of W.K. Kellogg Foundation

W.K. Kellogg Foundation & The Altarum Institute (2013). The Business Case for Racial Equity

Institute of Medicine (2003). Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America (2009). Race and Socioeconomic Factors Affect Opportunities for Better Health

The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change (2004). Structural Racism and Community Building

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies & PolicyLink (2004). Building Stronger Communities for Better Health

Audio and Video
National Data and Useful Links

National Center for Health Statistics: Data on Racial and Ethnic Disparities (2018). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/factsheets/factsheet_disparities.pdf

National Center for Health Statistics: Data Brief (2010) Hypertension, High Serum Total Cholesterol, and Diabetes: Racial and Ethnic Prevalence Differences in U.S. Adults, 1999–2006

National Vital Statistics Reports

National Health Interview Survey

Advocacy Organizations

W.K.Kellogg Foundation

Useful Links and Resources

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (2014)

From APHA Press

cover of Racism: Science and Tools for the Public Health Professional

Battling Racism

Camara Jones on TV interview

Black Lives Matter

thumbnail of AJPH commentary