Madison Becomes Latest Wisconsin City to Sign Resolution Declaring Racism a Public Health Issue

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The Madison City Council is the latest to join the Wisconsin Public Health Association‘s 2018 resolution declaring racism a public health crisis.

According to The Badger Herald, city leaders signed the resolution Oct. 15, joining 35 other groups, including the city of Milwaukee, that have gotten on board. The proposal was sponsored by 20 council members, including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Racism Public Health Crisis
Racism has been linked to poor health outcomes for Blacks, including hypertension and low birth weight. (Photo: Getty Images)

The push for racial equity comes amid a growing body of research pointing to racism’s negative impact on communities of color. In September, roughly 67,000 doctors with the American Association of Pediatrics released a policy statement acknowledging the affects of racism on health outcomes and suggested steps health care providers can take to combat it.

“Our systems our set up to produce chronic toxic stress,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison and Dane County. “And it’s actually having an impact on our health.”

In May, Milwaukee County exec Chris Abele made clear his commitment to progress by signing the WPHA’s anti-racism resolution. Abele, a Democrat, said the motion was about making a public promise to take action “in the face of injustice.”

“Everybody has been reading and hearing about the same set of statistics in Milwaukee for decades,” he said at the time. “We lead in an unfortunate way the racial disparities in employment, in education, incarceration, in income and even things like … access to capital.”

“The measures we’re taking will ensure every resident in every neighborhood benefits,” Abele added.

Race-based discrimination has been linked to a number of poor health outcomes for African-Americans, such as increased rates of high blood pressure, anxiety/depression and even premature death. Heinrich pointed to a recent report from The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness that underscored racial disparities in health outcomes across Dane County.

Researchers found that babies born to Black mothers were twice as likely to be born underweight than those born to white mothers. Moreover, the study put the Black infant mortality at 15.4 deaths per live birth — more than two times the overall infant mortality rate for Wisconsin.

“We’re seeing across the board in our communities of color, especially in our African American communities, negatively disparate rates of low birth weight, infant mortality, later diagnosis of cancers leading to a higher rate of death, and the list can go on and on and on,” Heinrich said.

Racism negatively impacts other parts of the health care industry as well.  Last month, a report found that a widely used algorithm to determine which patients are seen first at hospitals showed “significant racial bias.” Authors estimated that “this racial bias reduces the number of Black patients identified for extra care by more than half.”‘

The WPHA first drafted its resolution recognizing racism as a public health issue in July 2017, and it was approved the following year.