Tony Iton, Senior Vice President of the California Endowment, also spoke about explicitly changing the narrative we use in public health at the 2019 NNPHI Annual Conference in May. He noted that the narrative is the story we tell ourselves and that in the U.S. there is a growing narrative of exclusion – that some people matter and some people don’t. And as we in public health well know, such narratives ultimately affect the health of those who are excluded.
For example, a new report from UCLA found that in Wisconsin K-12 schools suspend black high school students at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country and Wisconsin has the second highest disparity in suspension rates between white and black students. The state of Wisconsin also has the largest achievement gap between white and back students in the country. Of course, Wisconsin is not the only area in the U.S. to experience such disparities. One of the goals of the Milwaukee County resolution is to encourage other local, state and national entities to recognize the harmful effects of racism.
Tony Iton was among the first people to look at life expectancy by zip code, which clearly showed that systematic discrimination affects health outcomes and ultimately mortality. At the NNPHI conference, Tony Iton stated that public health professionals understand such data and it is the responsibility of public health professionals to translate such complex information into policy. He reminded us that power matters to public health practice because health is political and that health should be viewed as an investment and not an expenditure. Countries that have made substantial investments in social determinants of health have better health outcomes.
As CALPHO starts to dig into communications and messaging around public health, as part of public health transformation, we need to remember that narratives do affect policies and of course policies affect health. Developing the capacity to translate complex evidence and frame it effectively for all audiences will help us challenge harmful narratives and promote helpful ones.