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Home > Health Topics > Podcasts > "Work Needs to Be Done to Reduce Health Disparities"

"Work Needs to Be Done to Reduce Health Disparities"

March 24, 2008

William Walker, MD
Contra Costa Health Services

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There's a lot of talk these days about budget cuts And you've probably heard that funding to health care is being slashed. It's really unfair, because the people who need the health care most are the ones who are going to suffer and they aren't all poor people.

I'm Dr. William Walker, Director of Contra Costa Health Services, and today I want to talk to you about the dramatic difference in the health status of individuals based on factors like race, economic status and education. Those differences - called health disparities - are very disturbing and there are things we can all do to close the gaps and be sure that everyone has the same chance to be healthy.

At the end of March and through April, the Public Broadcasting System will televise a documentary called "Unnatural Causes." The show will point out that there is much more to our health than bad habits, health care, or unlucky genes. The social conditions in which we are born, live and work profoundly affect our health and how long we live.

As a physician and health administrator, I'm really disturbed that while the United States is one of the richest countries on the planet, we rank 29th in the world for life expectancy, among the worst in the industrialized world - and even lower than some poor countries like Slovenia and Chile.

And all this will only get worse as elected officials on the state, local and national level cut health funding to address budget shortfalls.

Our job as a public health department is to take action for the common good.

Health departments have done that for years: We have improved water supplies to prevent disease and death; We require childhood immunizations to protect infants and children from dying unnecessarily; We have protected workers from the deadly impact of secondhand smoke and also worked for the passage of laws requiring bike helmets, seat belt use and drunk driving laws.

And of course, we have worked diligently to be sure everyone has access to health care by protecting public health care systems like ours.

Working to reduce health disparities isn't an easy task. It requires much more than a health department like ours can do alone. Strong leadership is needed in every community for polices that improve housing, education and employment opportunities, safety and access to food, nutrition and safe places to exercise.

I'm asking residents and community leaders in Contra Costa to join me in reducing health disparities.

Watch the upcoming television shows - one of which is about the city of Richmond.

Read our Community Health Indicators report that shows dramatic differences in health status throughout our County.

Work with us and people across the country to protect our health care system - the safety net for many people - and fight for policies that can reduce health disparities.

You can read more about this on our website at

Thanks for listening.

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