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    Government, Businesses and Organizations Announce $50 Million in Commitments to Support Women And Girls

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    WASHINGTON,DC – Ahead of the first-ever United State of Women Summit, the Obama administration, private-sector companies, foundations and organizations are announcing $50 million in commitments, along with new policies, tools and partnerships that will continue to expand opportunity for women and girls. These announcements include a pledge by more than two dozen leading companies to take actions to continue to close the gender pay gap, new resources to empower community college students to negotiate their first salaries, new campaigns to change how our country values caregiving and improve portrayals of women in media, and enhanced global efforts to promote gender quality worldwide.

    Each of these new efforts build on the work that President Obama and his administration have done since the day he took office ensure that women and girls have equal rights, treatment and protections.  He’s signed major pieces of legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – the first major bill he signed into law in January of 2009 – and the Affordable Care Act. He’s dramatically expanded fair pay and paid leave protections. And his administration has systematically encouraged cities and states to embrace policies like higher minimum wage and paid leave.

    Underpinning these actions, the President has spoken out and driven a conversation‎ about treating women fairly. He convened the first-ever White House Summit focused on working families to help build 21st century workplaces that better support the needs of families and companies. He has pushed for cultural change that gives women the respect they deserve in schools and in workplaces, and joined advocates in dramatically changing our country’s approach to sexual assault on campus and elsewhere. That conversation has spurred changes in cities and states, businesses big and small, and schools from pre-K to college.

    To continue this conversation, tomorrow the President and Vice President will participate in the United State of Women Summit to highlight the progress that has been made over the course of this Administration, and discuss public and private sector solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead. The First Lady will join Oprah Winfrey for a conversation aimed to inspire the next generation of women, shedding light on the progress the First Lady and Ms. Winfrey has seen women achieve and to encourage young women to take action so that progress continues for generations to come.

    The primary goal of the Summit is to build a roadmap for future policymakers, stakeholders and advocates to continue to expand opportunities for women and girls. The Summit is being convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls, hosted in partnership with the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation, and will bring together leaders across a wide array of public and private sector industries, along with students, advocates, entertainers, and athletes, to explore six issue areas that are critical for women and girls: economic empowerment, violence against women, health and wellness, civic engagement, education and entrepreneurship.

    The new commitments, resources and initiatives being unveiled tomorrow will build on the progress we have made over the past seven and a half years – both domestically and internationally – on behalf of women and girls. They include:

    Commitments from leading companies to join new White House equal pay pledge

    Highlighting the critical role that businesses must play in reducing the national gender pay gap, the White House will announce a new private sector engagement, called the White House Equal Pay Pledge, for companies who share this commitment – many of which are already taking steps on their own. Each company signing this pledge commits to take action within their organizations by conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations, reviewing their hiring and promotion processes, embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives, and identifying and promoting other best practices that will help ensure wage fairness for all workers.

    As part of this announcement, 28 companies have signed on to the pledge, including Accenture, Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, BCG, Buffer, Care.com, CEB, Cisco, Deloitte, the Dow Chemical Company, Expedia, Inc., Gap Inc., Glassdoor, GoDaddy, Jet.com, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal USA, PepsiCo, Pinterest, Popcorn Heaven, PwC, Rebecca Minkoff, Salesforce, Slack , Spotify, Staples, and Stella McCartney. Additional companies are invited to join this effort in the coming months.

    Modernized protections against gender-based discrimination in the workplace

    The Department of Labor will publish a final rule comprehensively updating its sex discrimination guidelines for federal contractors (including subcontractors) for the first time since the 1970s.  The rule newly addresses a variety of sex-based barriers to equal opportunity and fair pay in the workplace, including pay discrimination; sexual harassment; pregnancy-related accommodations; family caregiving discrimination; and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status.

    New collaboration with Harvard Negotiating & Mediation Clinic to expand career readiness resources through making available negotiation training for community college students nationwide

    Negotiation training can be critical in helping workers of any age secure a good job, salary and benefits – but many workers, especially women and those newly entering the job market, can face distinct barriers. Tomorrow, the Department of Education and Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program – as part of their program in negotiation training – are announcing the development of a new toolkit for community college students around the country to equip them with the knowledge and tools that will better prepare them for starting a career and successfully negotiating their first salary. In addition to being available for community college students, the toolkit will be made publicly available later this year – so will be an important readiness resource for all those newly entering the job market.

    The Department of Labor will award more than $54 million in grants to give working parents the ability to train for higher wage jobs while addressing barriers faced by those with child care responsibilities.  This will help working parents address key barriers to participating in and successfully completing training for middle-and high-skilled jobs in in-demand fields, as well as help bridge the gap between the workforce development and child care systems.

    By leveraging additional public and/or private funding, the grants promote activities that address barriers to accessing training and employment including co-location of training and child care services; increased access through unconventional training delivery times or locations; flexibilities related to scheduling and child care exigencies; and improved access to child care and other related participant supportive services.  This more than doubles the grant awards previously announced as part of the Department’s Strengthening Working Families Initiative grant program.

    A New Coalition to Change How We Value Care in the 21st Century

    Child and elder care are key to the economic growth of our country and the wellbeing of our families, but too often, we overlook the needs – and vital economic and social contributions – of paid and unpaid caregivers. Today Care.com, Caring Across Generations, and New America are launching the “Who Cares Coalition,” a unique partnership bringing together a corporation, advocacy campaign, and think tank to spearhead a broad-based social change movement redefining the cultural norms, behaviors, business practices, and policies around caregiving in the US.

    The “Who Cares Coalition” will reach millions of families and caregivers by uniting the world’s largest online marketplace for family care; the nation’s top advocate for families, caregivers and aging Americans; and the leading, nonpartisan civic enterprise focused on creating new data and policy analysis on caregivers and changing the narrative around care.

    New advertiser-led campaign to improve portrayals of women and girls across advertising and media

    The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE) will announce a new initiative called “#SeeHer” to incentivize advertisers, content creators and the media to develop and showcase content that portrays diverse women and girls authentically. The ANA is the largest representative body for the marketing community in the United States, including over 650 member companies with 10,000 brands who collectively spend more than $250 billion in marketing and advertising each year. The AFE is a coalition of ANA members with family-driven brands. With the launch of #SeeHer, the ANA will share toolkits to support the campaign and lay out the roles of partner organizations to ensure success.

    New foundation-backed initiative to invest in young women of color

    Seven women’s foundations are announcing their commitment to launch a Young Women’s Initiative in 2016, which will invest and catalyze resources to improve equal opportunity and the prosperity of young women, with a focus on young women of color and those experiencing the greatest disparities in outcomes in our communities. The Young Women’s Initiative will be built on cross-sector partnerships, including: government; philanthropies; nonprofits; corporations; and, most importantly, the young women themselves. The foundations announcing this commitment include the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, California Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. The New York Women’s Foundation previously launched a Young Women’s Initiative in 2015.

    Academics and Advocacy Groups Launch a Policy Platform to support Marginalized Girls

    The Girls at the Margin Alliance, a group of  more than 150 alliance members, steered by The National Crittenton Foundation, Rights4Girls, the National Women’s Law Center, Georgetown Center on Policy and Inequality and Girls Inc, will launch a policy platform that will propose concrete, actionable recommendations to ensure that marginalized girls and young women are met with system responses that honor their experiences and voices, provide opportunities for them to heal, develop their strengths, overcome challenges, ensure their safety, and support them in building thriving lives. This platform will provide a framework for change for all organizations and individuals dedicated to the potential of girls and young women. The Alliance was created to advance the best interest of girls who are marginalized by their communities, and often by their families and by the systems charged with their care. 

    New report and convening on early educator compensation

    The Departments of Health and Human Services and Education are releasing a new report on the compensation of the early care and education workforce. The report examines the low – and often poverty level – wages that child care providers and early educators receive, the vast majority of whom are women, the growing demand for high-quality early education to both support working families and foster children’s early brain development, and the key role that early educators and child care providers play in preparing the next generation of girls, and all young children, for success. To organize around solutions that address this issue, the Obama Administration will co-host a convening on June 15th with early childhood stakeholders, in partnership with the National Head Start Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Service International Employees Union.

    Enhanced global efforts to empower women and promote gender equality worldwide

    The U.S. Department of State will release a new strategy for women’s economic empowerment across the globe. The strategy will outline four broad policy objectives: promoting women’s equal access to resources and services, promoting women’s equal access to decent work, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and addressing overarching issues that impede women’s economic participation, such as gender-based violence.  The State Department’s overseas missions and domestic offices and bureaus will use the strategy to guide their efforts to support women’s economic participation and pursue gender integration across their portfolios.

    The White House will announce updates to two global strategy cornerstones of the U.S. Government’s commitment to advancing human rights and promoting gender equality worldwide. The updated U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, jointly led by USAID and the State Department, reflects our growing understanding of gender-based violence, including historic provisions for vulnerable populations, such as lesbian and transgender women. Established in a 2012 Executive Order in order to prioritize U.S. foreign policy and programs to combat gender-based violence worldwide using a whole-of-government, interagency approach, it lays out the tools the U.S. Government is employing to prevent and combat this scourge.  Annually, the State Department and USAID contribute approximately $150 million to support projects all over the world that support women’s and community groups broadly. USAID alone has reached more than five million survivors of GBV with vital, sometimes life-saving services in more than 40 countries worldwide, and has awarded more than $17 million in dedicated incentive funds to support innovative pilot programs, research, and scaled best practices to address GBV in 15 countries. 

    Likewise, the newly updated National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security will provide the framework for U.S. efforts to increase participation of women in peace processes, prevent sexual violence in conflict, empower women to prevent violence, and ensure that women and girls have equal access to relief and recovery resources.

    More than $20 million in new commitments to the Let Girls Learn Initiative to support the 62 million girls around the world who are out of school with the opportunity to attain an education: 

    CARE is committing to reach three million adolescent girls, by investing $15 million dollars in six countries through its Udaan “Second Chances” school program. Through this new commitment, Second Chances will broaden from India into Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, and Malawi to double its reach. This program provides an intensive, nine month curriculum to help girls who were unable to finish primary school, catch up to their peers. Through Second Chances, some of the world’s most marginalized girls have returned to school and some have even gone on to college. With a 95 percent success rate, CARE plans to broaden this program with the support of ministries of education, corporations, foundations, and local organizations.

    Oracle is committing to invest more than $3 million in direct and in-kind funds over the next 12 months to promote and support educational opportunities for adolescent girls around the world. Under this Let Girls Learn commitment, Oracle Academy, Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL) communities, Oracle’s Diversity & Inclusion program, and Oracle Volunteers will offer more than 65 direct educational events and support conferences, summer computing camps, and codefests for girls, reaching more than 55,000 students around the globe and inspiring them to explore and pursue opportunities in STEM fields.  The Oracle Education Foundation and Oracle Volunteers will teach girls coding, electrical engineering, and project management through four immersive girls-only workshops. Oracle also plans to expand the work of its Oracle Academy program in Egypt by making an additional investment of nearly $1 million in resources and services over the next four years as part of a new partnership with the Ministry of Education in Egypt to expand computer science education for girls in nine newly developed STEM schools. These schools, also supported by USAID, will provide three years of paid secondary education for each girl.

    The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is committing to deliver new programs worth $1 million to adolescent girls in the most conflict-affected states in Africa and the Middle East, including programming that addresses how violence impacts girls’ learning and their ability to access education services. Through its education and GIRL SHINE programs, IRC will target the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls with an in-school and out-of-school enhanced package of services, including girl-only safe spaces and discussion groups, life skills and social and emotional skill development curricula, remedial support in math and reading, parent and caregiver support groups, and an interactive visioning program that breaks down barriers, reduces violence, and ensures increased access to education.

    The Hershey Company is committing to support projects that will empower and educate adolescent girls through a $250,000 three-year commitment to the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund. The Hershey Company has a long history of giving underserved children the resources they need to be successful. Tomorrow, the company will advance this shared social purpose through this new commitment to Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund.

    PayPal is featuring Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund in its Back to School charitable giving campaign this August as part of an effort to raise awareness and encourage millions of PayPal U.S. users to support Let Girls Learn projects around the world. In addition to encouraging customers in the U.S. to support the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund, PayPal will add 1 percent to each donation, ensuring that 101 percent of every gift made by PayPal U.S. users reaches Let Girls Learn projects.

    American Airlines, through its Change for Good partnership with UNICEF, commits to expanding support for adolescent girls’ education by working with UNICEF’s “Let Us Learn” initiative. American commits to build upon Let Us Learn’s successes to-date, including awarding more than 4,000 scholarships to girls in Madagascar to help them enroll and stay in school through the lower secondary level, and helping over 8,000 out-of-school adolescent girls enroll in non-formal classes that provide flexible learning opportunities in Nepal.

    Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC) is committing to reach an additional 10,000 vulnerable adolescent girls with their Girl Power Project® in Central Uganda, thereby doubling their current program reach by 2020. An initial investment from the Toni Ko Foundation will launch the JLMC’s $250,000 commitment. The Girl Power Project® was created to empower adolescent girls and to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing secondary school. The Girl Power Project® (GPP) “System in a Box” is an evidence¬-based, innovative, targeted, and scalable mentoring program totaling more than 60 hours of training over two years. It addresses the complex needs of vulnerable adolescent girls’ aged 10¬-15, by ensuring that they stay in school and avoid obstacles in the transition to secondary school. The GPP® empowers girls to live healthy lives by avoiding forced child marriage, HIV transmission, early pregnancy, rape and disease.

    AOL, a media technology company with a mission to connect consumers and creators, is taking action in support of Let Girls Learn by announcing the Let Girls Build Challenge. The Challenge, powered by Citizen AOL and AOL’s #BUILTBYGIRLS platform, calls for young women to use the power of technology to conceptualize tech-enabled solutions to the problems facing the #62million girls without access to education. The Challenge will conclude with a final “pitch off” to a live audience, as part of the #BUILTBYGIRLS Challenge, which young women with a background in entrepreneurship to fund tech projects built by other girls. Through the Let Girls Build Challenge, AOL and Let Girls Learn will provide the resources, funding, and mentorship needed to empower the leaders of tomorrow to help open the doors to education globally. For more details please go to builtbygirls.com/letgirlsbuild.

    New resources to support efforts to combat and prevent violence against women

    The Department of Justice, through its Elder Justice Initiative and its Office for Victims of Crime with support from the Office for Access to Justice, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, will announce Elder Justice AmeriCorps, a $2 million grant program to provide legal assistance and support services to victims of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation – the majority of whom are women – and to promote pro bono capacity building in the field. This grant to Equal Justice Works will be the first ever army of new lawyers and paralegals to help victims of those who prey on our nation’s elders.

    The Department of Justice, through its Office on Violence on Women (OVW), is investing $3.2 million in new initiatives to prevent domestic violence homicides. This includes $700,000 for the establishment of a new National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence homicides involving firearms, as well as a new $900,000 technical assistance grant award to a consortium of organizations that will work closely with OVW to provide enhanced training and technical assistance to implement an effective firearms response at the local, state, and tribal levels. OVW has also entered into a partnership with the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to launch the new $1.6 million National Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Initiative (NIPVII). NIPVII will work with three cities, to be selected as part of the demonstration pilot, to replicate a successful strategy for reducing intimate partner violence and homicides. The National Institute of Justice will oversee an evaluation of the initiative through a grant to Yale University. Additionally, OVW will announce the addition of two new cities, Miami, FL and Winnebago County, IL, as replication sites for the Lethality Assessment Program model. This model was included as part of OVW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative, established in 2012

    The Department of Justice, through its Office on Violence Against Women, will award nearly $1.2 million to two organizations to help jurisdictions implement the Department of Justice Guidance on Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, which was released by the Attorney General in December 2015. Through training and technical assistance, these grants will develop resources and build the capacity of law enforcement and advocacy organizations to improve responses to domestic and sexual violence victims

    Today, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will release a special report, Down the Road: Testing Evidence in Sexual Assaults. It highlights findings from NIJ-supported action research projects in Houston and Detroit, where two multidisciplinary teams of criminal justice professionals developed effective strategies to address the large numbers of sexual assault kits that had not been submitted for DNA testing. The report offers key lessons for improving responses to sexual assault based on research findings from Houston and Detroit and discusses NIJ’s forensic and social science research portfolios as they relate to using biological evidence to solve sexual assaults.

    The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families Office on Trafficking in Persons has partnered with the Office on Women’s Health to create a training for healthcare and social service providers offering trauma-informed services to survivors of human trafficking. This will be complemented by a new initiative to collect data to improve understanding of how trafficking survivors interact with the health system and with social service providers, and will begin in August 2016.

    The Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) will invest $1.35 million in holistic services for American Indian and Alaska Native victims of sex trafficking in urban settings. Organizations awarded funds through this investment will be supported by Project Beacon, a training and technical assistance project that will help service providers’ work to promote the healing of sex trafficking victims. OVC will support Project Beacon through an additional investment of $450,000.

    The Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, through its National Girls Initiative, will provide an additional $700,000 in funds to support eleven community programs in Iowa, Hawaii, New York, California, Texas, Connecticut, Washington state, and the District of Columbia, that are working with young women and girls at-risk of entering the juvenile justice system. These programs are culturally-responsive, and build on girls’ strengths to empower them to build brighter futures.

    The Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women will release a report summarizing the sustained impact of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) throughout communities across the country, drawing from conversations with domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking service providers from over twenty states and tribes.

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    Health

    Study Shows Immune Cells Against Covid-19 Stay High in Number Six Months After Vaccination

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    A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers provides evidence that CD4+ T lymphocytes — immune system cells also known as helper T cells — produced by people who received either of the two available messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 persist six months after vaccination at only slightly reduced levels from two weeks after vaccination and are at significantly higher levels than for those who are unvaccinated.

    The researchers also found that the T cells they studied recognize and help protect against the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant — currently the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States — causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus.

    The study findings were first reported online Oct. 25, 2021, in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

    “Previous research has suggested that humoral immune response — where the immune system circulates virus-neutralizing antibodies — can drop off at six months after vaccination, whereas our study indicates that cellular immunity — where the immune system directly attacks infected cells — remains strong,” says study senior author Joel Blankson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The persistence of these vaccine-elicited T cells, along with the fact that they’re active against the delta variant, has important implications for guiding COVID vaccine development and determining the need for COVID boosters in the future.”

    To reach these findings, Blankson and his colleagues obtained blood from 15 study participants (10 men and five women) at three times: prior to vaccination, between seven and14 days after their second Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine dose, and six months after vaccination. The median age of the participants was 41 and none had evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.

    CD4+ T lymphocytes get their nickname of helper T cells because they assist another type of immune system cell, the B lymphocyte (B cell), to respond to surface proteins — antigens — on viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Activated by the CD4+ T cells, immature B cells become either plasma cells that produce antibodies to mark infected cells for disposal from the body or memory cells that “remember” the antigen’s biochemical structure for a faster response to future infections. Therefore, a CD4+ T cell response can serve as a measure of how well the immune system responds to a vaccine and yields humoral immunity.

    In their study, Blankson and colleagues found that the number of helper T cells recognizing SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins was extremely low prior to vaccination — with a median of 2.7 spot-forming units (SFUs, the level of which is a measure of T cell frequency) per million peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs, identified as any blood cell with a round nucleus, including lymphocytes). Between 7 and 14 days after vaccination, the T cell frequency rose to a median of 237 SFUs per million PBMCs. At six months after vaccination, the level dropped slightly to a median of 122 SFUs per million PBMCs — a T cell frequency still significantly higher than before vaccination.

    The researchers also looked six months after vaccination at the ability of CD4+ T cells to recognize spike proteins atop the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant. They discovered the number of T cells recognizing the delta variant spike protein was not significantly different from that of T cells attuned to the original virus strain’s protein.

    Although the study was limited because of the small number of participants, Blankson feels it pinpoints areas that merit further research.

    “The robust expansion of T cells in response to stimulation with spike proteins is certainly indicated, supporting the need for more study to show booster shots do successfully increase the frequency of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells circulating in the blood,” says Blankson. “The added bonus is finding that this response also is likely strong for the delta variant.”

    Along with Blankson, the members of the study team from Johns Hopkins Medicine are study lead author Bezawit Woldemeskel and Caroline Garliss.

    This study was supported by the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Vaccine-related Research Fund.

    The authors do not have financial or conflict of interest disclosures. 

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    Health

    Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

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    Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

    “A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

    Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

    “Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

    A Very Old Problem 

    In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

    Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

    It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

    The Myth of Meritocracy

    Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

    “Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

    Keys to Improvement

    The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

    The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

    “Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

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    Mental Health

    When Giving Thanks, Don’t Forget Yourself

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    As we give thanks at the holidays, it’s easy to overlook someone important: your past self.

    While it’s well documented that gratitude toward others can improve wellbeing, two University of Florida scientists find that gratitude toward your past self also has benefits.

    Does thanking yourself seem a bit…selfish? The researchers, UF psychology professor Matt Baldwin, Ph.D., and undergraduate student Samantha Zaw, think not.

    “Despite the fact that past gratitude is self-focused, it reminds people that they’re part of a bigger story and that they have the power to grow,” Baldwin said. “It’s possible this promotes a pay-it-forward type of mentality.”

    Gratitude is what psychologists call a self-transcendent emotion, one that lifts us out of the everyday and expands our perspective, which can help us get along with each other better. In a recent experiment, Baldwin and Zaw asked participants to write brief gratitude letters. The first group thanked someone else, the second thanked themselves, while a third, the control condition, wrote about a positive experience they’d had. Zaw and Baldwin then surveyed the participants about their self-perception after writing the letter. Although the results are not yet published, early analysis shows that the exercise gave the other- and self-focused gratitude groups a sense of redemption and helped them feel they were morally good people. However, the group that wrote to themselves scored higher on both measures.

    The past-self group also saw a benefit the others didn’t: an increase in the self-awareness measures of clarity, authenticity and connectedness.

    “Unlike gratitude toward others, being appreciative of ourselves carries an added benefit of truly understanding who we are and feeling connected to ourselves,” said Zaw, a McNair Scholar who has been working with Baldwin since her freshman year as part of UF’s Emerging Scholars Program.

    Zaw and Baldwin’s research — the first known data gathered on past-self gratitude — was inspired by a Reese’s cup. When Baldwin’s co-worker, boredom researcher Erin Westgate, returned to the office after pandemic lockdown, she was delighted to discover a peanut butter cup she had squirreled away in her desk.

    “She texted me like, ‘Oh my gosh, my past self left my future self a Reese’s,’” Baldwin recalled. “I was like, ‘Wait a second. You’re expressing gratitude towards something your past self had done. We have to study this.’”

    As Zaw and Baldwin dug into previous studies, they found plenty on gratitude toward others and a few on self-compassion, but nothing on past-self gratitude. They designed the letter-writing experiment to test its effects, presenting their findings at the Society of Southeastern Social Psychologists in October and at the upcoming meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in February.

    If you’re curious about the benefits of self-gratitude, Zaw offered a way to try the experiment at home, maybe as a new Thanksgiving tradition. Take a few minutes to write a thank you message to someone else, and another to yourself for something you did in the past. Sharing what you wrote could foster connections between loved ones, she said, but the exercise can also pay dividends if you try it on your own.

    “At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we focus on other people, but self-care is really needed too, especially if we want to feel more clear about ourselves,” she said. “Maybe it can even lead to a better vision for ourselves for the next year.”

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