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Challenges and Successes in Reducing Health Disparities: Workshop Summary
discussed the need for building information and data capacity in the United States.
Dr. Lawlor, coauthor of the paper “Community Approaches to Addressing Health Disparities” (see Appendix D), emphasized that in order for robust community-wide initiatives to be built and defended, there must be new community infrastructure and resources developed at the community level. He stressed that communities must bring together an array of social and economic data rather than relying on standard epidemiological data or health indicators alone. Very different traditional sources of data—racial, ethnic, and geographic data—will have to be brought together at the community level so that the health status of communities can be determined, and monitored and tracked, over time.
The presentations by Drs. Murray and Acevedo-Garcia stressed that where a person is raised or chooses to live will have a dramatic effect on their overall health and their access to quality health care. Dr. Murray presented his analyses using county-level mortality data, showing how life expectancies varied across the United States depending upon an individual’s county of birth and emphasizing that people living in the United States have increased or decreased life expectancies depending on the geographic areas in which they live. Dr. Acevedo-Garcia also discussed the importance of place, but her presentation focused on U.S. metropolitan areas and how the impact of opportunity across neighborhoods affected the lives and health of the residents. Her presentation specifically emphasized the effect that neighborhood environments have on children and adolescents and how influences during these early stages of life can have long-term effects on their life course and, subsequently, on the long-term economic disparities extant in metropolitan areas.
Several workshop participants and members of the audience were concerned about finding a way to discuss or frame the issue of health disparities using methodologies and terminology that would resonate with policy makers and also capture the public’s attention, both locally and nationally. Ms. Glover Blackwell, of PolicyLink, emphasized this point by suggesting that finding appropriate language for discussing these issues will ultimately determine whether or not there will ever be political and public will to be able to eliminate disparities. She also stressed that efforts to frame health disparities issues should not be limited to the realm of public or community health; they should include politicians, environmental health professionals,