tively now, health disparities could result in even more preventable deaths and disability as the racial and ethnic diversity of the country grows.
Through its convening capacity and by holding public workshops at different locations across the nation, the Roundtable on Health Disparities aspires to advance understanding of health disparities and explore solutions for ending them. In doing so, it endeavors to make a lasting contribution to the quality of life for some of this country’s most vulnerable groups.
On July 31, 2007, the first workshop of the Roundtable on Health Disparities was held at the Bank of America Theater at Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, Missouri. To help stimulate new thinking about solutions and to inform its future meetings and discussions, the Roundtable brought together a diverse group of participants from a variety of fields to discuss racial and ethnic differences in life expectancy in the United States. Measured in terms of life expectancy, tens of millions of Americans experience levels of health that are more typical of middle- and low-income developing countries. These mortality differences are caused primarily by chronic diseases and injuries with well-established risk factors and are potentially amenable to intervention. The goals of the workshop were to increase the Roundtable’s understanding of (1) the importance of differences in life expectancy within the United States, (2) the reasons for the differences, and (3) the implications of this information for programs and policy makers.
To specifically address the issues pertaining to U.S. life-expectancy rates, the Roundtable invited Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, to discuss his recent paper, “Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities Across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States” (see Appendix C). In his presentation, Dr. Murray discussed the gap in life expectancies found in different parts of the country, global comparisons in life expectancy rates between the United States and other countries, and behavioral risk factors—tobacco, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure, and blood sugar—that can have a direct impact on life expectancy. Dr. Murray also offered several strategies for future research endeavors and for increasing life expectancies in the United States. Among his suggestions were increasing the availability of county-level data to improve capabilities for monitoring and tracking disparities, developing strategies for framing health disparities concerns that include a greater acceptance of international models, and adopting policies that would foster a broader spectrum of innovation toward reducing health disparities.