The American Medical Association Has Declared Racism to Be a Public Health Threat

Racism permeates every aspect of life and has adverse effects on Black people and people of color. For example, redlining, where Black people were denied mortgages and home loans as homeownership was growing in the US, has had lasting effects that are still present today.

Black people were denied housing in suburban communities and pushed into urban housing projects, according to NPR. These communities were not invested in, they deteriorated, and the people who live in them have been faced with issues such as food insecurity, food apartheid, and pollution for decades. Not to mention, redlining has prohibited Black people from building generational wealth and still contributes to the racial wealth gap present today.

Racism has also been found to cause mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, and poor physical health, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney disease, according to Medical News Today.

In June, the American Medical Association (AMA), pledged to confront systemic racism and police brutality. Continuing efforts to address systemic racism, in November, the AMA officially recognized racism as a public health threat, including a plan to lessen and eradicate its effects.

"The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer," AMA board member Willarda V. Edwards, MD, MBA said in a statement on behalf of the AMA. Dr. Edwards continued, stating that as physicians and leaders in medicine, they are committed to "optimal health for all" and are working to ensure that all people and all communities can reach their full health potential. In order to do so, the AMA House of Delegates adopted new policy to:

  • "Acknowledge that, although the primary drivers of racial health inequity are systemic and structural racism, racism and unconscious bias within medical research and healthcare delivery have caused and continue to cause harm to marginalized communities and society as a whole."
  • "Recognize racism, in its systemic, cultural, interpersonal and other forms, as a serious threat to public health, to the advancement of health equity, and a barrier to appropriate medical care. Support the development of policy to combat racism and its effects."
  • "Encourage governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations to increase funding for research into the epidemiology of risks and damages related to racism and how to prevent or repair them."
  • "Encourage the development, implementation, and evaluation of undergraduate, graduate, and continuing medical education programs and curricula that engender greater understanding of the causes, influences, and effects of systemic, cultural, institutional and interpersonal racism, as well as how to prevent and ameliorate the health effects of racism."

Additionally, delegates have directed the AMA to identify current best practices for healthcare institutions, physician practices, and academic medical centers to recognize, address, and mitigate the effects of racism on patients, practitioners, internal medicine graduates, and populations. Delegates have also directed the AMA to work to prevent and combat the influences of racism and bias in innovative health technologies, according to the statement.

"Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation," Dr. Edwards said.