Health Disparities Expert Discusses Environmental, Biological Influences
The Baltimore Examiner on Friday profiled Thomas LaVeist, a health policy professor and director of the Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. According to LaVeist, when examining racial health disparities, researchers should take into consideration that blacks and whites tend to live in separate communities, and the "environmental exposures they have are very different."
He said, "When you say there is a race difference in" certain health outcomes, "we don't know if those differences are caused by these very different risk environments people are living in or if it's really something more inherent in that race group, (such as) its culture or even its biological differences."
In some cases, researchers associate a genetic cause to the disparity, but the "association is at best weak," LaVeist said, adding that "in reality there aren't (genetic differences by race). What you have is a higher frequency in a certain gene or gene mutation in one population or another and that gene mutation is associated with a health outcome."
LaVeist said, "To be perfectly frank, we researchers haven't fully explained what causes the health disparities. We have some good ideas, but we can't say definitively 'here are the three things creating health disparities.'" As a result, researchers cannot "expect policymakers to be able to know exactly where those prevention levers are that would lead to change," he added (Michael, Baltimore Examiner, 1/9).