Mississippi ranks last, or close to last, in almost every leading health outcome. In Mississippi, health disparities are significantly worse for those who have systematically faced obstacles to health due to their socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, geographic location, and other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.
Health disparities not only affect the groups facing health inequities, but limit overall improvements in the quality of care, and the health status for the broader population, and result in unnecessary costs. As we consider strategies for reducing health disparities, we can’t ignore the impact of structural and systemic racism on the health outcomes of minority communities.
Racism, both interpersonal and structural, negatively affects the mental and physical health of minority communities within the country, preventing them from attaining their highest level of health. The impact of racism is pervasive and deeply embedded in our society—affecting where one lives, learns, works, worships, and plays and creating inequities in access to a range of social and economic benefits, such as housing, education, wealth, and employment. These conditions are key drivers of health inequities within minority communities, placing those within these populations at greater risk for poor health outcomes.
The social determinants of health-where we live, worship, work, and play- determine our ability to lead healthy, productive lives. Poverty, access to health care, quality of health care, housing, and employment are all examples of factors that influence health. All these things are worsened by systemic and structural racism. Systemic and structural racism are normalized and legitimized by the policies, institutions, and systems that govern our society (e.g., in housing, education, employment, healthcare, criminal justice, etc.). To really make a difference and improve health outcomes for minorities, disadvantaged and underserved individuals in this state, programs, and policies need to be implemented that promote health equity and specifically address the policies that perpetuate and facilitate the development of health disparities in minority, disadvantaged, and underserved communities.
Sandra Melvin, DrPH, MPH
Chief Executive Officer
Institute for the Advancement of Minority Health