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Eliminating Racial Health Disparities Requires Fixing Economic Inequities, Doctor Says

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Dr. Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the Dell Medical School, says 400 years of economic inequality is an underlying cause of health disparities local government is trying to address.

The local health care district Central Health is asking for input from the public on how to spend $290.8 million next year to help people with low incomes access health care in Travis County. The next opportunity to share your ideas with Central Health's Board of Mangers is Sept. 11.

One of Central Health's goals is to "eliminate health disparities." That's a big task in Travis County, where the incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease continues to disproportionally affect communities of color, according to the latest annual assessment by Austin Public Health. 

One local expert on health equity says access to care is only part of the solution.

"Families need to be able to pay their rent, buy food, clothe themselves. They need money, right? So, that contributes to health," says Dr. Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin.

As the nation marks 400 years since the arrival of the first African slaves to what is now the United States, Mullen says addressing health disparities requires understanding how slavery has left a legacy of racial power imbalance. 

"It gets put in a context of institutional practice, like institutional racism," she says. "Being able to talk about those positive futures means being able to talk and hear those words without hearing blame or anger, and instead saying, 'Here's our opportunity to create our present and our future, understanding the context of the past and not be stuck in the past.'"

Mullen will be speaking more about these issues at the Healthier Texas Summit on Oct. 17 and 18 at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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