Racism is a Public Health Crisis

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Executive Summary

Racial disparities in health and wellbeing are well documented. In 2003, the Institute of Medicine issued the landmark report Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare, which connected racism in mortgage lending, access to housing, employment, and criminal justice to racial health disparities. This report and the World Health Organization’s 2008 report on health equity led to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Social Determinants of Health Framework (SDOH), which recognized that racial health disparities are a result of inequalities in education, employment, healthcare, housing, and law enforcement.

Ten years after the SDOH framework was published, racial health disparities persist and have a significant impact on healthcare costs and lost life. For example:

  • Between 2007 and 2016, Black, Native, and Alaska Native women were two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women—and this disparity increases with age.
  • Black people had higher death rates than white people for all-cause mortality in all age groups <65 years between 1999 and 2015.
  • Black, Native, Alaska Native, and Latina women were more often diagnosed with stage
    3 breast cancer than white and Asian or Pacific Islander women, which was tied to a lack of health insurance.
  • Racial health disparities are estimated to cost the United States $175 billion in lost life years (3.5 million lost years at $50,000 per life year) and $135 billion per year in excess healthcare costs and untapped productivity.