Sadly, incidences of racism, violence and social injustice continue across our nation, and here in Columbus, Ohio, that remind us of the importance and urgency of our work.Over the last several months, many states, local governments and health care organizations – including Nationwide Children’s Hospital – have declared racism a “public health crisis.”
But what does that mean exactly? And how does it apply to children?
At its simplest, it means that racism makes health significantly worse for entire populations of people. That’s true even taking into account a person’s biology, diet and activities. Decades of medical and scientific studies have shown that health outcomes are worse for Black people, even if they have the same basic underlying health.
Why? It’s not because of skin color; it’s because of the way people have been treated as a result of their skin color, and the way the United States’ history of discrimination continues to have an impact. Public health remains at risk because of racism.
Historical zoning laws forced people of color into neighborhoods with poor housing. School segregation denied Black people the same educational opportunities as white people. Racism meant that certain careers paths weren’t open to people of color. Housing, education, earning potential and many other “social determinants” have a huge effect on health, and that legacy continues today.
Children are impacted by all of this, and by some racism-related health issues that are specific to children. A study from Nationwide Children’s found that apparently healthy Black children are more likely to die after surgery than apparently healthy white children. In Ohio, Black babies die at more than twice the rate of white babies.
So, racism is a public health crisis, and it is also a pediatric health crisis. Nationwide Children’s and many of our children’s health colleagues feel we must call attention to the way that racism permeates all aspects of our wellbeing. Only then will we be able to address the many ways that racism affects us.
Olivia W. Thomas, MD, currently holds the position of Chief Diversity and Health Equity Officer at Nationwide Children's Hospital. Dr. Thomas is also a member of the Section of Primary Care Pediatrics and a clinical professor of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Ambulatory Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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