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Conversations in Equity

A blog devoted to increasing awareness of health inequities and promoting national, state, and local efforts to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity.

“When did I get old?”

Categories: Health Equity

diverse elders playing cards

Sitting in her favorite reclining chair and looking out the window of her apartment, Marian reflected on over 40 years of living, working, and raising a family in “The City that Never Sleeps.” She migrated to New York City from North Carolina in her mid-twenties, and would spend the next 4 decades enjoying the parks, playgrounds, museums, and performing arts that have long characterized “The City.” She acclimated to the “hustle and bustle,” the diversity of peoples, language, and customs, and she came to appreciate the access provided by the public transportation system —despite the deafening noise of the train that passed by her apartment about every 20 minutes well into the night. The drive and pace of the city demanded that she keep up in order to survive, and until age 65, she was able to hold her own in the community she had come to love.

Three days before her retirement, Marian woke up to her alarm as she had done every morning for the last 25 years to get ready for work. This week marked the countdown to the next phase of her life —the phase of “retiree,” time to be more than a part-time grandmother, and the flexibility to travel and spend quality time with friends.

Water Wellness

Categories: Health Equity

African American Professional Woman
I’ve had a longstanding professional interest in cultural perspectives on obesity – particularly among African American women. In fact, it was a central focus of my doctoral studies. I conducted my research between 2001 and 2005, but I continue to be intrigued by the social and cultural meanings ascribed to body size and shape. These meanings vary by race and ethnicity, social class, religion, country of birth, whether you live in the North, South or on the West coast of the U.S., and a host of other factors. Scholars have analyzed obesity and body size among women from the standpoints of feminism, capitalism, psychology, philosophy, Foucauldian power relations, sociology, and anthropology. Representations and explorations of the large Black female body are also found in poetry, literature, and the visual arts. During my graduate studies, I concentrated on applying theoretical perspectives from the humanities and social sciences to my thinking about how we might develop public health strategies to reduce the prevalence of obesity among African American women.

The Image of Equity

Categories: Health Equity

Guest Blogger: Ana Penman-Aguilar, PhD, MPH
AI/AN Woman Doctor
Many of my childhood thoughts of equity related to women’s rights. I grew up at a time when girls could think about growing up to do the things that men did. However, women’s roles in society had just begun to shift, and there were still very few publicly visible role models—particularly for girls of color. There was a riddle in circulation at the time that went something like this: A man is in a car accident in which his father is fatally injured. The son is taken to the emergency room and operated upon and it is discovered that he is the surgeon’s son. How can this be? Of course, the surgeon was his mother. This was a real brain teaser back in the 1960s and 70s.

Making Things Right

Categories: Health Equity

“In short, we urge the nation’s leaders to embrace the idea that an economically vibrant and sustainable American future depends, almost wholly, on a broader vision for equity, one that recognizes that lifting up the least of us will lift up all of us.”
Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future; Blackwell, Kwoh, Pastor; 2010.

At CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE), we are winding up the celebration of our 25th anniversary. The centerpiece of our celebration has been an exhibit at CDC’s David J. Sencer Museum titled “Health Is a Human Right: Race and Place in America.”Health Is A Human Right The exhibit was designed to “show the faces” behind the data, contextualize health disparities within community-driven social movements and the social determinants of health1, and highlight strategic federal initiatives implemented to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities over the past 120 years. Since its opening at the end of September 2013, more than 21,000 people have visited the exhibit. Through the exhibit, we attempt to share some of the histories of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, and Native Hawaiians & Other Pacific Islanders, and selected events that contributed to the historical patterning of health disparities in communities of color. There are examples of community interventions and policy initiatives that have contributed to better health outcomes in these communities. Yet, as the exhibit demonstrates, good health is not achieved in a vacuum.

Grandfathers / “Abuelos”

Categories: Health Equity


Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day were officially celebrated in June, but as wives, daughters, and partners, every day we recognize the unique social, cultural, and economic challenges affecting men’s health and particularly men of color. I’m excited about the growing attention to men’s health as evidenced by the number of scientific journals devoted to men’s health, as well as new investments in research involving men of color. For example, our sister agency, the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health recently awarded a grant to Hampton University – in partnership with five other historically black colleges and universities, to conduct “innovative trans-disciplinary research to effectively reduce health disparities in minority men.”1 Once understudied, there is more research emerging in the literature to inform public health practice intending to improve health outcomes among men of color. The July 2013 special issue of the American Journal of Men’s Health, for example, focuses on theoretical frameworks, interventions, and qualitative and quantitative analyses needed to better explain and address preventable health disparities among African American men.2

“…isms” and the pursuit of health equity

Categories: Health Equity

Last fall, our office hosted the inaugural “Forum on the State of Health Equity at CDC.” Elderly African American Man The purpose of the forum was to examine CDC’s progress in the implementation of policies, programs, surveillance, and research that contribute to achieving health equity. We grappled with definitions, measures and indicators, program components, and the infrastructure needed to effectively integrate health equity across our programs. We also reached out to the agency’s Healthy Aging Program and the Sexual and Gender Minorities Workgroup and asked “what issues or concerns would you like addressed as part of this forum?” This is what they said:

“I just didn’t want to hear any more bad news…”

Categories: Health Equity


Gathered in the parking lot of my hometown church, family and friends were “catching up” with each other before leaving the annual “Homecoming” service and dinner.

While in the parking lot, I overheard a conversation between two cousins. One was sharing that she had attended two funerals the day before, and her husband had been ill for several months. Caring for her husband, maintaining a full-time job outside the home, and responding to the needs of her adult children and grandchildren had taken their toll on her physically and emotionally.

She also commented that she was experiencing back pain but decided it was only arthritis. In this cultural context, arthritis is a minor, recurring and mostly annoying pain that is associated with aging. She had recently celebrated her 51st birthday. Her cousin asked if she had gone to see the doctor about the pain in her back, and she replied, “No, I just didn’t want to hear any more bad news.”

Reflections, Revisions, Renewals

Categories: Health Equity


It is customary at the end of each year to pause and celebrate achievements, ponder lessons learned, and renew commitments to do more, even better. Having marked our accomplishments, we look to the new year with anticipation and new aspirations. As we begin 2013, I want to reflect briefly on progress in the national agenda to improve minority health and reduce health disparities, share some shifts in our thinking, and greet the new year invigorated and ready for the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Wanted: A Workforce to End Health Disparities

Categories: Health Equity

Students exploring the field of public health work

A colleague and I were recently discussing “the good ole days” over lunch. We reminisced about the neighborhoods we grew up in, the influence of our families and friends, and how we dodged poverty, violence, and isolation. When I look back, my years in college were probably the most significant period of personal growth, hard work, and good times. I can also remember times of confusion and indecision—particularly as I struggled to declare a major. I had always been interested in a health career. During high school, I was exposed to physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and pharmacists, and decided I would become a physician. However, after receiving a C- in my freshman chemistry class, I knew the “pre-med” curriculum was not for me. During my junior year, I took a course in medical anthropology and was introduced to public health by my professor who was also a physician. I learned that “health” was determined by so much more than the provision of health care services. It was during my senior year in college that I decided to pursue a graduate degree in public health, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Continuing to Enjoy the Ride: Reducing disparities in motorcycle deaths and injuries

Categories: Health Equity

coulple buying a motorcycle

This summer, my nephew was killed while riding his motorcycle. He was just 2 months shy of his 41st birthday. I can still hear my daughter saying “I have some really bad news…Junior died.” The crash happened at night. He was hit by a car turning left into the entrance of an apartment complex, and although my nephew had the right of way, the driver said she “didn’t see him.” He was wearing a helmet and driving within the speed limit. According to a recent CDC study, between 2001 and 2008, more than 34,000 motorcyclists were killed, and there was a 55% increase in motorcyclist death rates during this period. More people in the U.S. are riding motorcycles today than ever before, making motorcyclist deaths and injuries an important public health concern.

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