On Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated that racism was a “serious public health threat.” The CDC echoed on its website that racism was a systemic problem, asserting, “To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to racial and ethnic health inequities.”
The Hill noted that the CDC, with Walensky calling racism a public health threat, became “the largest federal agency to do so,” adding, “The declaration is part of a new agency-wide initiative called Racism and Health, which the CDC said is meant to be a hub for its research into the effects of racism on health, and efforts to achieve health equity. The initiative is meant to go beyond studying the issue and focus on taking action.”
“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’s statement on its new Racism and Health initiative reads.
Walensky pontificated, “The disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. 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. What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation.”
Walensky also posited that racism was a systemic problem, writing, “Confronting the impact of racism will not be easy. We must recognize that we are working to overcome centuries of discrimination. We will only be successful in undoing the entrenched systemic and structural barriers if we work in collaboration with our public health partners, and deeply within our communities, across the country.”
American Medical Association president Susan Bailey echoed on Thursday, “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately plague Black and Brown communities, it’s clear that collective action from all stakeholders is needed to dismantle systemic racism and confront, embed, and advance equity across our health care system.”
The CDC has stated, “Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black adults have a have a higher prevalence of obesity and are more likely to suffer worse outcomes from COVID-19.” The CDC blamed the obesity in those groups in part on racism, stating, “Racial and ethnic minority groups have historically not had broad opportunities for economic, physical, and emotional health, and these inequities have increased the risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 for some groups. Many of these same factors are contributing to the higher level of obesity in some racial and ethnic minority groups.”
The CDC added: “Obesity is a complex disease with many contributing factors. Neighborhood design, access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages, and access to safe and convenient places for physical activity can all impact obesity. The racial and ethnic disparities in obesity underscore the need to address social determinants of health such as poverty, education, and housing to remove barriers to health. This will take action at the policy and systems level to ensure that obesity prevention and management starts early, and that everyone has access to good nutrition and safe places to be physically active. Policy makers and community leaders must work to ensure that their communities, environments, and systems support a healthy, active lifestyle for all.”