Panelists address health issues in U.S.

Disparities in the health of different races and economic classes are among the most serious health problems facing the United States, panelists said at a national town meeting at GW Wednesday.

The town meeting was broadcast via satellite to 450 sites across the country to help enhance campus and community learning and to improve the quality of life pertaining to race and health, according to packets given to viewers of the program. People in the studio audience and those viewing from other sites were allowed to ask questions to fuel the dialogue.

Although the focus in the country is often on the health care system and people’s access to care, especially in the current presidential campaign, the six panelists in the Dorothy Marvin Betts Theatre said that fixing the system is not a cure-all.

Health care alone will not get rid of disparities, said Dr. David Williams, a faculty associate for the African American Mental Health Research Center.

Sandra Hernandez, CEO of a community foundation in San Francisco, said that health care is responsible for just 10 percent of all health outcomes, and that environmental factors such as where people live and their economic status have a much bigger impact on their health.

That is the case in many Native American, Hipanic and black neighborhoods, according to several of the panelists. Williams pointed out many differences in health between African Americans and Caucasians. He said that the gap in the death rate of blacks and whites – with the death rate of blacks being significantly higher – has remained constant for nearly 50 years.

Toni Plummer, who works on health issues on reservations in Montana, said high levels of poverty and unemployment play a large role in the health of Native Americans.

When you’re just trying to survive, health problems are often secondary, Plummer said. In addition, economic difficulties lead to problems like alcoholism, depression and domestic violence, she said.

Poverty is a pathogen – it is a disease-causing agent in many populations, Williams said later in the discussion.

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