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Vol. LXIV, No. 13
June 22, 2012
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Collaborating to Improve Health for All
NIH Celebrates Minority Health Month

Dr. John Ruffin

Dr. John Ruffin

Hundreds of NIH employees, grantees, federal representatives, students, community advocates and members of the public came out for the first-ever NIH Minority Health Promotion Day on Apr. 19 in the Clinical Center. Hosted by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the event represented a collaboration with dozens of institutes and centers, federal agencies and academic and community organizations that came together to commemorate National Minority Health Month.

The day began with an exhibit and poster session. Participants received blood pressure and heart rate screenings sponsored by the NIH Division of Occupational Health and Safety. Attendees visited tables with health promotion materials. A highlight was NIDCD’s It’s a Noisy Planet spin-the-wheel game.

By afternoon, the audience segued into the speakers’ forum titled “Social Determinants of Health: Can We Afford to Ignore Them?” in Masur Auditorium. NIMHD director Dr. John Ruffin opened the session, welcoming federal partners and stressing the importance of partnerships at every level to examine the strong influence of social and environmental factors on health. He introduced NIH director Dr. Francis Collins, who pointed out, “social determinants of health is a critical aspect of what we need to come to grips with if we are going to successfully address this major problem both in this nation and across the world of health disparities.”

Session moderator Dr. Brian Smedley of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies set the tone with an overview of the social determinants of health, which he defined as “the social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health.”

Dr. Peter Ashley described the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s work to promote smoke-free multi-family housing and reduce the prevalence of lead poisoning in children. Estimating that 90 percent of the housing stock in Baltimore has lead-based paint, Ashley noted that the children of those who cannot afford to move are exposed to lead toxins. This exposure, he noted, “limits their ability, because of the cognitive damage, to raise themselves up out of poverty.”

Angela Bates (l) of the Office of Research on Women’s Health and Valerie Lambros of NIDCR manage exhibits during Minority Health Promotion Day. In addition to health screenings and a poster session, many exhibits were on display in the Clinical Center lobby

Angela Bates (l) of the Office of Research on Women’s Health and Valerie Lambros of NIDCR manage exhibits during Minority Health Promotion Day.


In addition to health screenings and a poster session, many exhibits were on display in the Clinical Center lobby. The event represented a collaboration with dozens of institutes and centers, federal agencies and academic and community organizations.

Dr. Onyemaechi Nweke described the Environmental Protection Agency’s strategy to achieve environmental justice and highlighted some of its programs. Key focus areas for EPA include efforts to: understand the pathways through which environmental injustices occur; identify risk management options to mitigate existing or prevent new environmental health disparities; identify multiple points of intervention; enhance policies based on scientific evidence and “figure out a way to talk about environmental justice in scientific terms.” An important milestone she noted was a partnership with NIMHD to fund trans-disciplinary centers and networks of excellence on the environment and health disparities.

At a speakers’ forum, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins addressed the afternoon assembly in Masur Auditorium.

At a speakers’ forum, NIH director Dr. Francis Collins addressed the afternoon assembly in Masur Auditorium.

Photos: Bill Branson

The Department of Transportation’s Amber Ontiveros revealed that of the 3.6 million Americans who miss or delay medical care because of transportation constraints each year, almost one-third are African American or Hispanic and more than half have annual incomes below $20,000. Citing a CDC study that found that 29 percent of transit users met the recommended 30 minutes per day of physical activity by walking to and from transit, Ontiveros detailed how her agency is collaborating with federal partners to create community living initiatives to fund economical transportation and promote walkable urban design.

Dr. Thomas Feucht from the Department of Justice explained how the attorney general’s initiative to reduce children’s exposure to violence could improve their cognitive and physical development. He also mentioned a recent special emphasis on reducing intimate partner violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women and announced a new program to prevent violence and victimization among racial and ethnic minorities.

Finally, Shawn Malarcher of the U.S. Agency for International Development discussed how socioeconomic status affects family planning in developing countries. In Nepal, for example, women across socioeconomic status reported wanting two children ideally. However, in reality, families in the lowest wealth quintile had an average of 4 children, while the wealthiest women averaged 1.5. “Data from 41 countries show similar trends,” Malarcher said. She also explained how her agency successfully partnered with community health workers to reduce social, linguistic, geographic and financial barriers to family planning.

A focus on partnership underscored every aspect of the day. In closing remarks, Ruffin reiterated the event’s theme: “The take-home message...is how complex health disparities really are. It’s going to take all of these individuals…to be connected in order for us to really be able to address the issue of health disparities.”


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