5 reports address the causes of health disparities in the United States

This map of Little Rock, Ark. issued by Home Owner’s Loan Corporation. Historical records show that red areas rated as “dangerous” were neighborhoods where black residents lived. According to the population data plotted on the map, black Americans represented at least 30% of the population in some of these areas. Some, according to archival sources, worked in lumber mills, shops, and private homes as housekeepers. Click on the map for an interactive map that shows how this practice, known as “redlining,” has led to social vulnerability in those neighborhoods today.
Source: Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, accessed 10 May 2023

Stories about health disparities, even stories about CDC statistics, need to be told about the social causes that contribute to them. Five academic reports on the history of laws and policies governing key determinants of health offer these nuances. Critically, these reports reveal how intentionally discriminatory legislation and regulation in housing, education, employment, and other areas have contributed to poor health outcomes for Americans of color, and may continue to do so for many years.

These articles are a good resource for journalists because they include historical context about local, state, and national regulations that go back at least 100 years. The authors also reveal how business leaders with racist and bigoted views developed discriminatory industry practices. And they also discuss how business owners or their representatives work with lawmakers and policymakers to create laws and policies that deny access to housing loans, quality schools, and better-paying jobs to blacks, Hispanics, and other people of color.

Together, the reports provide a comprehensive collection of studies, history books, oral archives, and other resources on the topics they cover. Those sources can help you develop stories about current and future national, state, and local public health trends.

Below you’ll find some of the research findings, public health trends and nuances that caught our attention from these reports. Authors include sociologists, criminal justice experts, and education policy researchers.

  • COVID-19 research shows that the life expectancy gap between whites and some Americans of color has widened. In this study, for example, the researchers said the estimated decline in life expectancy for black and Latino Americans compared to their white peers was less significant in 2021 than in 2020. more severe overall effect”.
  • Although the infant mortality rate for white and black children declined dramatically in the 20th century, by 2017 black infants were far more likely to die than their white peers than they were 100 years ago.
  • Studies comparing the quality of health of blacks in the United States and blacks in some African countries have shown that the latter have lower rates of chronic disease than white Americans. The authors say the findings suggest that “racial disparities in health are largely the result of black Americans’ life circumstances and the institutions that shape them, rather than genetics or common ancestry.”
  • Housing disparities in the South can be traced in part to discriminatory laws targeting black Americans after the Civil War, as well as the violence they suffered in the decades that followed. In the cities, fearing violent behavior from white neighbors, many blacks who had moved there from southern states “crowded into older neighborhoods, while housing shortages forced residents to double up in split rooms and rent kitchens.”
  • Health disparities in the nation’s cities and towns can be traced back to discriminatory housing laws enacted more than 100 years ago to prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as influenza and tuberculosis.

In reports presented in March by Columbia Journalism School’s Ira A. At the symposium, organized by the Lippman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights, scholars also blamed journalists for perpetuating inaccurate explanations of the causes of social and health inequities in this country. , as well as harmful stereotypes of Americans of color. To avoid this, researchers suggest:

  • Journalists guard against their racial, ethnic, and class biases as often as possible.
  • Journalists need to be more judicious about the context they choose to include and exclude in their stories.
  • While writing about “extraordinary acts of state violence” such as the killing of George Floyd is important, journalists must consider the “ordinary ways in which the criminal justice system and other policing systems harm health and democracy.”


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