A Policy Statement from Northwestern Health Sciences University

Racism causes health disparities

A complex legacy of racism in the United States continues to create health inequities among people of color. Systemic biases in education, employment, housing, healthcare, access to food, accumulation of wealth, and the legal system contribute to poorer health among communities of color. These social determinants of health are driving factors behind the “weathering hypothesis”, where chronic exposure to discrimination and disadvantage lead to accelerated decline in health outcomes, particularly among Black individuals.1 Black Americans experience greater rates of disease in nearly every major indicator of physical health as compared to other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. (2) Infant mortality among African Americans is twice the national average, and the life expectancy for Black men and women is consistently shorter than their White counterparts. (3, 4)

While this report focuses primarily on Black communities and other persons of color, we acknowledge many groups similarly face discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, social class, and ability. The intersection of these characteristics with the identification as a Black person often amplifies inequities, and contributes to variability in health experiences within communities of color. (5)

While knowledge about racial inequities in healthcare is not new, progress toward a more equitable system and greater health for Black communities has been slow. (2) The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black individuals, coupled with cases of police brutality against the Black community, has rightfully brought the issue of racial discrimination in healthcare to the forefront. (6) Northwestern Health Sciences University is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of all communities through integrative healthcare solutions. The purpose of this paper is to address issues of racial disparities specifically in complementary and integrative healthcare (CIH). We will also present several pathways for the integrative care community to create more equitable health and wellbeing for Black individuals and communities of color.

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