Honoring Black History Month through the lens of health and wellness

Published February 25, 2022

Every February, Black History Month is a time to honor and celebrate Black individuals’ accomplishments. It is also a time to acknowledge the challenges and adversities that Black people around the world face due to systemic, institutional, and structural racism. This year’s Black History Month theme, chosen annually by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is Black Health and Wellness, an inherent part of the work we do at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). IHME engages with diverse experts to provide important local insights by working in concert with an expansive network of over 7,000 collaborators representing more than 150 countries to conduct the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD). Our research aims to highlight the inequities in health access and shape policymakers’ decisions to promote the improved health of all people around the globe.

Some of IHME’s recent work includes:

  • Obstacles to Healing Asthma, a Think Global Health piece examining how racist housing practices in the United States lead to Black Americans developing asthma. The research found that Black people are more likely to live in neighborhoods with hazardous indoor exposures like dust and mold, due in part to federal redlining practices that made it difficult for Black people to achieve homeownership in suburbs. Black people are three times more likely to die from asthma than White people.
  • Fatal police violence by race and state in the USA, 1980-2019: a network meta-regression, a paper published in The Lancet that points to systemic racism in policing. Compared to three non-governmental open-source databases, the USA National Vital Statistics System misclassified and underreported 55.5% of police violence deaths between 1980 and 2018. The deaths of Black Americans had the highest underreporting compared to other racial and ethnic groups at 59.5%.
  • Ending Police Violence in America, a Think Global Health piece drawing upon the above research paper that indicated from 1980 to 2019, police were, on average, 3.5 times more likely to kill Black non-Hispanic people than White non-Hispanic people. Among the G20, Brazil and the United States rank the highest in police violence.
  • US Health Care Spending by Race and Ethnicity, 2002-2016, a paper published in JAMA that quantified the inequities in health care spending, reflecting the structural racism within the health care system. In 2016, Black individuals made up 12% of the US population and received an estimated 11% of the $2.4 trillion spent on health care. By contrast, White individuals comprised 61% of the US population and disproportionately received an estimated 72% of total health care spending. Black individuals had disproportionate spending on emergency department and inpatient care while White individuals had disproportionate spending on preventive care such as ambulatory care and pharmaceuticals.
  • U.S. Children “Learning Online” during COVID-19 without the Internet or a Computer: Visualizing the Gradient by Race/Ethnicity and Parental Educational Attainment, a research article highlighting the differences in resources for children receiving their education in a remote learning environment. An estimated 10.1% of children had inadequate access to the Internet or a computer, with that number escalating to 15.6% for Black students.

Structural racism remains a public health issue. We cannot only underscore the health inequities that Black communities face during February, but we must also bring attention to these issues year-round. The IHME team is dedicated to prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work. We recognize that there is always more to be done and we seek to partner with other institutions to implement our research in evidence-driven policies.