National Coalition on Health and Behavior

The Society for Public Health Education,
the National Association of Social Workers,
the American Psychological Association, and
the American Public Health Association

invite you to join the newly formed


The National Coalition on Health and Behavior will advocate for the role of behavior in eliminating racial and ethnic and other health disparities, including rural health

  • In 2000, six of the ten leading causes of death for all age groups in this country were behaviorally based: diet, stress, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, violence, and accidents. In addition, many behavioral factors are now known to increase individuals' risk for disease, physical disability, and early death.

  • Abundant research shows that tobacco and alcohol consumption, obesity, inadequate physical activity, unprotected sex, and poor nutrition are risk factors for numerous diseases, including cancer and heart disease, diabetes, stroke, disease of the liver and lung, and AIDS. Although the adverse health effects of such factors are now widely recognized, the prevalence of these behaviors in American society remains high and is, in some cases, rising. That is the bad news. The good news is that effective evidence-based interventions have been, and are being, developed to help modify risk factors. These interventions must be made widely available and widely known in order to impact the substantial cost that unhealthy behavior inflicts on our society.

  • While racial and ethnic disparities in health are to a great extent the result of socioeconomic disparities among these groups, minority racial and ethnic status is associated with adverse health outcomes beyond those explainable by socioeconomic differences. This disparity is best illustrated by data indicating that for most causes of death and disability, ethnic minorities suffer from poorer outcomes relative to whites, even at equivalent education and income levels. Research has found that these disparities may result from racism and discrimination, including racism inherent in the health care system, and the ways in which racism and discrimination restrict socioeconomic opportunity and elevate stress among their victims.

Many groups, including some racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with low English proficiency, low-income, impoverished, and working poor families, individuals living in rural communities, and those without health insurance experience poorer overall health and barriers to accessing appropriate and timely health care. But as noted in the Institute of Medicine's 2002 report, "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare," these problems are compounded for some racial and ethnic minority groups because of a number of factors, including historic and contemporary racial and ethnic discrimination, segregation, and inequality in many aspects of American life, including in employment, education, and housing. These factors disproportionately and negatively affect the health and well being of many in communities of color, and therefore should constitute a special focus of the federal government's efforts to reduce health disparities.

What is needed to close the health disparity gap?

1.  Biomedical and behavioral and social science research must work hand in hand.

Behavioral and social science research holds the key to eliminating health disparities. Behavioral research refers to overt actions, underlying psychological processes (e.g., emotion, motivation, and cognition), and bio-behavioral interactions (e.g., effects of stress on health and effects of brain injury on behavior). Social science research includes the study of culture, socioeconomic status, geographic location, bio-behavioral factors, and multiple levels of social contexts (e.g., small groups and cultural and /national systems).

2. Socioeconomic policies that improve the status and life circumstances of socioeconomically and racially/ethnically disadvantaged populations must be implemented.

To join the Coalition or to receive updates, including legislative action alerts, contact one of our cochairs:

Lawrence Moore, III, NASW, 202-336-8289

Lori Valencia Greene, APA, 202-336-5931

Elaine Auld, SOPHE, 202-408-9804

Brian Williams, APHA, 202-777-2514