Health Inequities Harm U.S. Competitiveness, Economic Strength and National Security; Eliminating Them Should Be a National Priority, Says Scientific Panel

RWJF-commissioned report spotlights nine community-driven solutions from across U.S. and recommends steps for all sectors to help build momentum.

    • January 11, 2017
Students participating in gym class.

Washington D.C.—Warning that persistent health disparities pose “severe consequences” for America, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine called today for action to make health equity a priority for the nation. In a comprehensive report, Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, the scientific panel said ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthier life is crucial to the nation’s economic and growth prospects, to its national security and to communities’ well-being and vibrancy.

In the United States today, residents live shorter, sicker lives than people in other developed countries and, across America, health varies by income, education, race and ethnicity and geography. Until that changes, the report said, the nation will pay the high price in lost lives, wasted potential and squandered resources. The panel called on leaders from education, transportation, housing, planning, public health, business and others to prioritize health equity and offers tools for communities.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) commissioned the comprehensive report, the result of a year-long analysis by a 19-member committee of national experts in public health, health care, civil rights, social science, education, research and business. The report is part of a $10 million, five-year grant to the National Academy of Medicine to examine solutions to promote health equity, a key element in a Culture of Health.

“As Americans, we tend to think of health mostly in the context of personal responsibility, but the choices we make depend on the choices we have available to us,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey. “This report shows us how we can set people up for better health by working together and across sectors to revitalize neighborhoods, improve schools, provide job opportunities, and adjust community planning policies so they promote health and well-being for everyone. Let’s learn from these community-led solutions so we can find what works to help everyone thrive.”

“Communities are uniquely situated to address health inequities by supporting a Culture of Health, which coupled with supportive local, state, and federal policies, has the potential to create a more equitable and prosperous nation that offers opportunities for all,” said National Academy of Medicine (NAM) President Victor J. Dzau. “This National Academies’ consensus study is a part of the multiyear NAM Culture of Health Program, and we’re looking forward to continuing our work to develop evidence-based solutions needed for all to achieve good health and well-being regardless of the circumstances under which they are born, live, or work.”

Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity highlights nine communities across the United States that are taking steps to address health inequities:

Acknowledging that the root causes of health inequities are “diverse, complex, evolving and interdependent in nature,” the panel also provides specific recommendations ranging from research priorities and data collection to guidance for public and private policies and multisector partnerships.

The report cites data indicating that racial health disparities alone are projected to cost health insurers $337 billion between 2009 and 2018. The report also notes that military experts have found that the impact of poor health on national security is also high, with some 26 million young adults unqualified to serve in the U.S. military because of persistent health problems, along with poor education or having been convicted of a felony.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s report, Communities in Action, Pathways to Health Equity can be found on their website.


about the national academies of sciences, engineering, and medicine

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world. Their work helps shape sound policies, inform public opinion, and advance the pursuit of science, engineering, and medicine. For more information, visit


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937