Send to

Choose Destination
SSM Popul Health. 2018 Apr;4:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2017.10.006.

Civil rights as determinants of public health and racial and ethnic health equity: Health care, education, employment, and housing in the United States.

Author information

Division of Public Health Information Dissemination, Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia.
Office of the Associate Director for Science, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, CDC, Atlanta, Georgia.
Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University, United States.


This essay examines how civil rights and their implementation have affected and continue to affect the health of racial and ethnic minority populations in the United States. Civil rights are characterized as social determinants of health. A brief review of US history indicates that, particularly for Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians, the longstanding lack of civil rights is linked with persistent health inequities. Civil rights history since 1950 is explored in four domains-health care, education, employment, and housing. The first three domains show substantial benefits when civil rights are enforced. Discrimination and segregation in housing persist because anti-discrimination civil rights laws have not been well enforced. Enforcement is an essential component for the success of civil rights law. Civil rights and their enforcement may be considered a powerful arena for public health theorizing, research, policy, and action.

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of interest There are no conflicts of interest in this study.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center