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NIH Record

Workshops Seek Clues to Health Disparities

Less income often means poorer health and a shorter life. People with lower socioeconomic status suffer more infant mortality, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But why is that? Does it have to be the case? If, as it seems, the problem is not simply a lack of medical care, how can the health gap be closed?

Three regional workshops sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are trying to determine what research might answer these questions. The first was held in Oakland, Calif., and the others will be in Baltimore, May 26-28 and Chicago, July 7-9.

Oakland participants ranged from a science center director to an artist concerned about health risks faced by people in the community. The Oakland workshop won strong support from attendees including Joan Reiss, public policy advocate with the Breast Cancer Fund. She sent a letter to NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus, cosigned by 28 other participants, that said, "This is truly an agenda for the 21st Century."

Oakland workshop participants recommended development of a working definition of socioeconomic status (SES), development of more "low SES friendly" risk assessment instruments and investigations of individual variations in response to exposures.

NIEHS director Dr. Kenneth Olden said, "Disparities are often taken for granted, but the people who come together for these workshops are not satisfied with that. We are looking for research directions that will help change these patterns for the better, so that poor health for less affluent people is no longer considered a given."

Breakout groups at the workshops discuss such things as air quality health risks, lead and other heavy metal exposures, agricultural chemical exposures and community participation in research.

More information about the workshops and registration can be found at or contact Michelle Beckner at (703) 902-1269.

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