New York City’s Board of Health has passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, joining a growing list of state and local governments around the country that have done so in recent years.
The resolution calls on the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to take steps including reviewing the city’s health code to look for structural racism and try to find ways to make changes.
“To build a healthier New York City, we must confront racism as a public health crisis,” said Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city’s health commissioner.
Since 2019, when Milwaukee County in Wisconsin was the first to call out racism as a public health issue, dozens of places around the country have followed suit, including the city of Chicago and Cook County.
In doing so in July, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that “80% of health outcomes are due to social factors, including housing, safety, education, economic opportunity — every single one of which have, through our history as a nation, been impacted by systemic racism. ... We can no longer allow racism to rob our residents of the opportunity to live and lead full, healthy and happy lives.”
At the time, city officials also said $9.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding would go to six “Healthy Chicago Equity Zones.”
Milwaukee County officials said they took action because of health disparities in Wisconsin’s most populous county, where nearly 70% of the state’s Black residents live.
The American Public Health Association, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics and the American College of Emergency Physicians also have declared racism a public health crisis needing immediate attention.
Supporters of government declarations, which picked up steam amid a pandemic that has amplified racial health disparities, have said they are an important step in addressing problems, though some have questioned whether the declarations will lead to change.