CDC: Reflections, Revisions, Renewals

female doctor male patientIt 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.

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Since the publication of the 1985 Secretary’s Task Force Report on Black and Minority Health, the federal government has revised and renewed our efforts to reduce health disparities through the National Partnership for Action (NPA)External Web Site Icon; the National Prevention StrategyHealthy People 2020; and provisions in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to name a few. Along with increasing access to quality health care, these national initiatives represent a strategic revision in the national agenda to shift our attention from “excess deaths” highlighted in the 1985 report to the social and physical environments – broadly understood, that help shape health outcomes.

Last year, CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity established five priority goals, one of which is to “reframe eliminating health disparities as achievable.” In this reframing, we are exploring ways to modify and expand how health disparities have historically been documented, explained, and addressed. In the field of public health, minority health is principally examined through the lens of epidemiology – the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events in specified populations. In the case of minority health, this study is primarily applied to the prevention and control of health problems. Descriptive epidemiological studies are sometimes reported as point-in-time snapshots and others reflect trends over time. What could be more fully described in reports of these studies are the historical events and social conditions that contextualize health outcomes.