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State Legislation to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis and Address Institutional Racism [ASTHO]


August 12, 2020|2:03 p.m.| ASTHO Staff
The movement to address racism through policy change in the U.S. is receiving significant political support at every level of government. Government institutions are acknowledging the systemic oppression of people of color that persists in the United States and elevating racism as an urgent public health emergency comparable to other public health crises.

At the local level a growing number of cities and counties are issuing declarations. Public and private institutions, school districts, and business leaders are joining the charge to advance racial equity and to support policies declaring racism a public health crisis. At the federal level, a national resolution was introduced in Congress declaring racism a public health issue and leading national health associations ASTHOAPHAAMA, and AAP issued statements in solidarity with these efforts.

At the state level, governors and legislatures are also taking actions to raise awareness of the impacts of racism on health outcomes, to reverse the damage of racist polices, and to promote policy change to prevent the negative effects of racism and discrimination on future health outcomes. Research shows that persistent exposure to racial discrimination may result in premature aging, poor health outcomes, and increased prevalence of certain chronic diseases. For example, Black Americans are more likely to have or die from certain chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease than white Americans and have a shorter life expectancy than the rest of the U.S. population. These racial disparities are tied to historical racist policies such as redlining and Jim Crow laws, and a legacy of disinvestment in communities of color.

Below is an overview of state level efforts to declare racism a public health issue, establish political bodies and procedures to assess the disparate impact of current policies on populations of color, and implement policy changes to ensure that future policies are enacted with a racial equity lens.

Governors in MichiganNevada, and Wisconsin issued executive orders declaring racism as a public health crisis requiring immediate action and allocation of resources. In addition, governors in North Carolina and Vermont issued executive orders establishing task forces or councils to implement strategies and policies to eliminate racism in several systems including the public health and criminal justice systems.

To read the entire article by Melissa Lewis, MPH, is the director of health equity at ASTHO
Cassandra Thompson is a senior analyst of social and behavioral health at ASTHO, click here.

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In addition, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced a Racial Justice Council to address systematic racism in the state on July 31.  It is to recommend "changes to state and agency health policies, practices, and structures to align them within a racial justice and health equity framework. The purpose is to make necessary institutional and statutory changes necessary to promote health equity, improve disaggregated data collection, and recommend interventions for racial health disparities in social determinants of health."


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