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CDC Expert On Race And Health In WV

November 17, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A national expert on issues of race and health who is to be in West Virginia today says there are a lot of things that can shorten people's lives that have nothing to do with their genes or their choices. The observation was made by Dr. Camara Jones, research director on social determinants of Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). She is to take part in a forum in Charleston this evening on health inequality and its root causes.

In a recent PBS documentary on the subject, Dr. Jones said some neighborhoods keep people from living longer, no matter how careful they are.

"The grocery stores that are available, the kinds of billboards. Liquor stores or not, the kinds of housing that you're in. Whether there are trees or not. Walking trails. Do you have a lot of air pollution in your area? How good are the schools?"

Jones says racism puts people under stress, and stress makes them sick. She says we can teach people ways to reduce their stress, but that's not a complete solution.

"If that's all we did, teach people to relax or whatever it was going to be, without changing the situation that is stress-inducing, then I think that we would be doing all of us a disservice."

Jones says many of the neighborhoods that could be bad for the health are also areas that are home to minorities. She describes it as a kind of passive racism, conditions that exist not because of hate, but from inertia. Jones says it's a problem that costs African-Americans six years of average life expectancy compared to whites.

The forum, "Promoting Health Equality: Addressing the Root Causes of Disparities," is open to the public. It is to start at 7 p.m. this evening at Capital High School on Greenbrier Street in Charleston.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV