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PLoS One. 2017 Oct 10;12(10):e0185957. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185957. eCollection 2017.

Do black lives matter in public health research and training?

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America.
Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America.
Department of Applied Health Sciences, Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America.



To examine whether investments made in public health research align with the health burdens experienced by white and black Americans.


In this cross-sectional study of all deaths in the United States in 2015, we compared the distribution of potential years of life lost (PYLL) across 39 causes of death by race and identified key differences. We examined the relationship between cause-of-death-specific PYLL and key indicators of public health investment (federal funding and number of publications) by race using linear spline models. We also compared the number of courses available at the top schools of public health relevant to the top causes of death contributor to PYLL for black and white Americans.


Homicide was the number one contributor to PYLL among black Americans, while ischemic heart disease was the number one contributor to PYLL among white Americans. Firearm-related violence accounted for 88% of black PYLL attributed to homicide and 71% of white PYLL attributed to homicide. Despite the high burden of PYLL, homicide research was the focus of few federal grants or publications. In comparison, ischemic heart disease garnered 341 grants and 594 publications. The number of public health courses available relevant to homicide (n = 9) was similar to those relevant to ischemic heart disease (n = 10).


Black Americans are disproportionately affected by homicide, compared to white Americans. For both black and white Americans, the majority of PYLL due to homicide are firearm-related. Yet, homicide research is dramatically underrepresented in public health research investments in terms of grant funding and publications, despite available public health training opportunities. If left unchecked, the observed disproportionate distribution of investments in public health resources threatens to perpetuate a system that disadvantages black Americans.

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