HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Tells Journalists: Cover Health Disparities

Published on
March 4, 2010

In the middle of the week that is likely to determine the outcome for President Obama's health reform effort, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took time out from the fray on Thursday to talk to journalists about health disparities.

Speaking to 150 journalists and health advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. for a conference on health disparities sponsored by the National Association of Black Journalists, Sebelius noted that racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes were integrally tied to disparities in access to care.

"There's no question that African Americans and HIspanics and Native Americans are often the victims of some of the disparate care that we find throughout this country," she said. "The single best way to reduce the disparities in health care in this country is to pass comprehensive health reform. There is no question that having access to health care would be a major step forward."

Sebelius said that HHS would soon release a new report that will not just document health disparities, but include an action plan for reducing them. "This is not just one more study that's going to sit on the shelves," she pledged. "My commitment is we not only are going to release the plan, but we are going to implement the plan." 

Sebelius touched briefly on several health-specific initiatives within the Obama administration, including First Lady Michelle Obama's effort to highlight the risks of childhood obesity and efforts within the Department of Agriculture to address the lack of access to fresh produce in many poor neighborhoods, a phenomenon known as "food deserts."

With one in three children either overweight or obese, a communitywide strategy is necessary to reduce the incidence, she said. "We've got to move on the kind of food that's served in schools," she said. "P.E. has to come back into school curriculums. We know that kids are not only healthier, but better students if they can run around during the course of the day."

She said that the Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 million Americans do not have a retail source of fresh produce within two miles of their homes.  The department is currently mapping these food deserts to inform strategies to bring fresh produce to them, she said.