How long we live is not solely determined by what we do or who we are; it is determined by where we live. And where we live is often determined by who we are. Two ideas are central to understanding the connection between place, race, and health. First, unequal neighborhood conditions produce disparities in health outcomes. Bad neighborhoods are not the product of bad people, nor are some people intrinsically less healthy than others. Rather, some people live in places with health-supporting conditions like access to fresh food and taxation of tobacco products, and some do not. Second, differences across neighborhoods are not naturally occurring. They are the product of federal, state, and local policies interacting with the actions of private markets.
This policy brief reviews recent scholarship from members of the Diversity and Health Disparities cluster and offers important insights to meet the intertwined challenges of neighborhood inequalities and racial health disparities. The brief first reviews how the inclusion of place in research about health disparities initiates a new dialogue about the basis for persistent racial/ethnic health disparities that departs from discriminatory ideas linking them to what are thought to be natural differences. The brief next considers how residential segregation contributes to differences in neighborhood conditions and racial/ethnic health disparities. Taken together, the research presented in this brief provides new ways the think about health disparities and their causes, consequences, and potential remedies.