Call to Action: Structural Racism as a Fundamental Driver of Health Disparities
Structural racism has been and remains a fundamental cause of persistent health disparities in the United States. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and multiple others have been reminders that structural racism persists and restricts the opportunities for long, healthy lives of Black Americans and other historically disenfranchised groups. The American Heart Association has previously published statements addressing cardiovascular and cerebrovascular risk and disparities among racial and ethnic groups in the United States, but these statements have not adequately recognized structural racism as a fundamental cause of poor health and disparities in cardiovascular disease. This presidential advisory reviews the historical context, current state, and potential solutions to address structural racism in our country. Several principles emerge from our review: racism persists; racism is experienced; and the task of dismantling racism must belong to all of society. It cannot be accomplished by affected individuals alone. The path forward requires our commitment to transforming the conditions of historically marginalized communities, improving the quality of housing and neighborhood environments of these populations, advocating for policies that eliminate inequities in access to economic opportunities, quality education, and health care, and enhancing allyship among racial and ethnic groups. Future research on racism must be accelerated and should investigate the joint effects of multiple domains of racism (structural, interpersonal, cultural, anti-Black). The American Heart Association must look internally to correct its own shortcomings and advance antiracist policies and practices regarding science, public and professional education, and advocacy. With this advisory, the American Heart Association declares its unequivocal support of antiracist principles.