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Racism is a Public Health Issue

Racism is a public health issue.

Health Action New Mexico’s mission is to bring together organizations and consumers to influence policy that affects the health of all people living in New Mexico; this organization recognizes that racism and systems that perpetuate racism constitute a public health issue. Now more than ever, we hope to lend our voice to spread awareness of the health ramifications of racism and the ill effect it has on our state and our country. For this blog, we will be focusing on racism toward Black Americans specifically in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Americans have poorer health and a shorter lifespan compared to white Americans.

Black people are disadvantaged in nearly every aspect of health equity in our country. They have a higher mortality rate than any other racial or ethnic group for eight of the top ten causes of death in the United States. According to, black men have a lower life expectancy at birth than their white counterparts. Even though life expectancy has improved over the last century, black men are still expected to live to the age of 72.2, but their white counterparts are expected to live to 76.61. According to the Center for American Process, black people in this country have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease than other groups. Black children have a 500% higher death rate from asthma compared with white children2, for example, in 2017, 12.6% of Black American children had asthma compared to 7.7% of non-Hispanic white children. It is evident that the overall health of every demographic of the Black American community is suffering: 

  • 13.8% of Black Americans reported having fair or poor health compared with 8.3% of non-Hispanic whites 

  • 80% of Black American women are overweight or obese compared to 64.8% of non-Hispanic white women 

  • 42% of Black American adults over age 20 suffer from hypertension compared with 28.7% of non-Hispanic white adults3 

  • Black people are almost two times as likely to have diabetes compared to non-Hispanic Whites 

  • Cancer rates among Blacks are 10% higher than those for white Americans  

  • Blacks are six times more likely than whites to be homicide victims 

  • Blacks account for nearly half of new HIV infections, but less than a quarter of the total population 

  • Blacks make up a third of patients receiving kidney dialysis

Black women face even more challenges.  Even in states with the lowest PRMRs (pregnancy-related mortality ratio) and among women with higher levels of education, black women are disadvantaged. The PRMR for black women with at least a college degree was 5.2 times that of their white counterparts. Such disparity in pregnancy- related death for women of color is not merely due to lack of education or poverty. Non-Hispanic black experienced higher PRMRs (40.8) than all other racial/ethnic populations with the exception of non-Hispanic AI/AN (American Indian/Alaskan Native) women. This was 3.2 times higher than the PRMR for white women – and the gap widened among older age groups.  For women over the age of 30, PRMR for black women was about four times higher than it was for white women. Disparities were persistent and did not change significantly between 2007-2008 and 2015-2016. See below a graph for pregnancy related mortality rates amongst minority women, and notice the large disadvantage for black women. 


The following graphic expands more on the health disparities in the black population in this country4.


According to Michael Geruso of SpringerLink, “For males, 80% of the black-white gap in life expectancy at age 1 can be accounted for by differences in socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. For females, 70% percent of the gap is accounted for. Labor force participation, occupation, and (among women only) marital status have almost no additional power to explain the black-white disparity in life expectancy after precise measures for income and education are controlled for”5. See below for a visual representing the difference in life expectancy between white and black women/ men.

These health issues are drastic, but black citizens also face disparities when seeking coverage to care for such issues. In 2017, 10.6% of Black Amercians were uninsured compared with 5.9% of non-hispanic whites3. Even if Black Americans are able to enroll in medicare, the last 6 months of life are still $7,100 more expensive to the Medicare system for black people and $6,100 more expensive for Hispanics than white, according to a study by the University of Michigan. And despite that, the National Academy of Medicine found “racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people—even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.” By lower-quality health care, NAM means inferior care black patients receive by their physicians.


Even outside health care disparities, black citizens are also more likely to be the victim of violence, more specifically, police brutality. Black people have been 28% of those killed by police since 2013 despite being only 13% of the population.  Out of this, 17% of black people were unarmed. Therefore, there is a clear disparity with a twofold increase in homicide, yet a much larger proportion of unarmed victims.

There is inadequate data, research, and statistics on law-enforcement agency homicide rates in this country. The Death in Custody Reporting Act was recently signed to mandate such data be reported, but it is still unclear on whether police departments actually comply, and if they do how long it takes them to collect, compile, and make the data public. The Mapping Police Violence Database only reports known police killings, and even if these numbers are non-encompassing, they are still shocking:

 97 percent of these killings occurred while a police officer was acting in a law enforcement capacity. Importantly, these data still do not include killings by vigilantes or security guards who are not off-duty police officers. There are police killings that are not reported and are not shown in the media, and there remains ample examples of violence that does not result in a death. Finally, see the graph below, which demonstrates that crime does not determine or provoke this violence7. We would like to point out that Albuquerque is on this chart.


The United States is the richest country in the world and considered a global leader in most respects.. However, minorities, particularly Black Americans, remain systemically disadvantaged. Here at Health Action New Mexico we believe that all people in New Mexico should have access to the resources that allow them to lead a healthy life, regardless of geographic location, language, ethnicity, race, citizenship, age, disability, sex and sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, or religion. We know that racism is a public health issue, and plan on supporting policy and legislation that will help dismantle white supremacy in this country. We are also planning on attending the It Can’t Wait March hosted by Black Lives Matter ABQ New Mexico to show our support for the movement and hand out water bottles to the marchers. The march will be Saturday July 18th from 6-10pm, starting at Santa Fe Plaza and continuing to the state capitol building. We hope to see you all there to stand in solidarity. 

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2). The Center for American Process



5). Michael Geruso of SpringerLink





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