Health institute calls racism a public health crisis in Wisconsin

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- In May of 2018, the Wisconsin Public Health Association passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis in the state.

A nursing professor at UW-Eau Claire is supporting that claim and said racism can negatively impact a person's health.

Clinical Assistant Professor, Dr. Pamela Guthman, said institutions have built systems that do not provide equitable opportunities for people of color.

“Racism is really about addressing the inequities that our country has experienced for years and really tearing apart the concepts that are underneath all of that,” said Guthman.

Guthman said structures here in the state, as well as the country, have not provided reasonable or equitable opportunities for housing, financing, or education.

“Much of this is really rooted in the issues around wealth and the inappropriate distribution of resources,” she said.

Guthman said various factors like lack of access to stable housing, well-paying jobs, or a quality education all are issues that are rooted in racism.

She said these can negatively impact people's physical health and mental health.

Guthman said when you have the disparities and inequities, the levels of cortisol, your body's main stress hormone, increases as you move on through life. She said an accumulation of that can lead to cardiovascular disease, among other health issues.

“It’s here in our local area, it is in the state and it is in the country,” she said. “It’s time for us to do something about it.”

Guthman said there has been a statewide effort led by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. They are working to address the issues around the state on health equity. She said one challenge is getting other organizations to join on and declare that racism is, in fact, a public health crisis.

For more information on the Sign-on to Declare Racism as a Public Health Crisis in Wisconsin, click here.

Guthman said the more inclusive that a community is, the healthier the community is.

“These are difficult conversations, but when you shy away from having these difficult conversations, then we’re perpetuating the issue,” said Guthman.