UW News

November 2, 2011

Hogness Symposium lecturer David Williams: ‘Making America Healthier’

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Dr. David Williams’ bio

David R. Williams, the Florence Sprague Norman & Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health at Harvard University, will give the 20th John R. Hogness Symposium on Health Care lecture from 3 to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9, in Hogness Auditorium, A-420 Health Sciences Center. The title of his lecture is Making America Healthier: Simple and Surprising Steps for Every Health Professional.

Making America HealthierThe lecture is free and all are welcome to attend.

Williams, who is also professor of African and African American Studies and of sociology at Harvard, is an internationally recognized social scientist who studies social influences on health. His research has enhanced understanding of the complex ways in which race, racial discrimination, socioeconomic status and religious involvement affect physical and mental health. The Everyday Discrimination Scale that he developed is one of the most widely used measures to assess perceived discrimination in health studies.

Williams says that the amount of money the United States spends on health care yields a paltry result, considering our wealth.

“America ranks at or near the bottom of industrialized countries  on two key indicators of health: life expectancy and infant mortality. Yet we spend more than any other country in industrialized world. We consume about half of the worlds medical resources but were less than 6 percent of the worlds population. Were not getting the health return on our health expenditure.”

From 2007 through December 2009, Williams served as the executive staff director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations Commission to Build a Healthier America. This national, independent and nonpartisan health commission was focused on identifying evidence-based non-medical strategies that can improve the health of all Americans and reduce racial and socioeconomic gaps in health.

The general public and health care professionals need to reprioritize the emphasis and expenditures in medicine, according to Williams.

“Our medical care system has little to do with health; our medical care system is a repair shop. We only spend 2 to 3 percent of our healthcare dollars on prevention.”

Williams proposes creating a “culture of health” in which every segment of the populaton can thrive.

“How can we create a culture of health that makes the healthy choice the easy choice? The determinants of health lie within homes, communities, workplaces and religious institutions. We need to improve the quality of health where we live, work, learn and play.

“We need to realize that all Americans — not just the vulnerable, the poor, and minority groups—are less healthy than we could be. Yes, some Americans have farther to go in terms of improving health. We need to have personal responsibility to make healthy choices and social responsibility to remove barriers and create opportunities for those who live in environments where healthy choices are not available.”

Creating a culture of health is the responsibility of every segment of society, Williams says.

“We need a national initiative to improve the health of all. Improving the nations health care is not just up to the health care system or public health system. Policies in education, community, transportation and housing – all of these determine whether were healthy in the first place. We need to collaborate and work together in all of these areas to create healthy cultures.”

During his career, Williams has been a faculty member at Yale University, where he held appointments in sociology and public health, and the University of Michigan where he was the Harold Cruse Collegiate Professor of Sociology, a senior research scientist at the Institute of Social Research and professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health. He holds a masters degree in public health from Loma Linda University and a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Michigan.

Williams has served on the Department of Health and Human Services National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics and several committees for the Institute of Medicine, including the Committee that prepared the Unequal Treatment report.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health and the sponsorship of the World Health Organization, Williams directed the South African Stress and Health Study, the first nationally representative study on the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in sub-Sahara Africa. The study assessed the effects HIV/AIDS, exposure to racial discrimination and torture endured during apartheid, on the health of the South African population. He was also a member of the team that conducted the National Study of American Life, the largest study of mental health disorders in the African American population in the United States.