Racism and Health

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

"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 Jones, MD, PhD, MPH

boy woman man and another woman

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.

APHA Presidential Initiative, a National Campaign Against Racism

This effort builds on our commitment to social justice and health equity and raises awareness about racism's impact on the health and well-being of the nation. The initiative aims to identify all areas in which racism exists and operates and to take swift and practical steps toward health equity through its elimination. The goals are to:

  • Put racism on the agenda. Name racism as a force determining the social determinants of health.
  • Ask “How is racism operating here?” Identify how racism drives past and current policies, practices, norms and values that create the inequitable conditions in which we are born, grow, live, learn and age.
  • Organize and strategize to act.  Promote and facilitating conversation, research and intervention to address racism and its negative impact on the health of our nation.


APHA supports National Day of Racial Healing (news release)

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

Read this 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

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

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

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
Audio and Video
National Data and Useful Links

Battling Racism

Camara Jones on TV interview

Black Lives Matter

thumbnail of AJPH commentary

The President Speaks Out

In her column for The Nation's Health, APHA President Camara Jones explains why she's leading an initiative on racism and health.