Title:Focusing on health equity for men

Author: By Bhriana Smith
Date Published: December 1, 2022
a man with glasses in a suit and tie stands outside a building
Photo: Lisa Helfert

The lack of research surrounding policies and programs to achieve health equity for Black and brown men has resulted in preventable— and significant—health inequities between Black and brown communities and their white counterparts. Seeking a future where people have equal opportunities to be healthy and have equitable health outcomes—regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender—has become the passion of Derek M. Griffith, Ph.D., professor of health management and policy at Georgetown’s School of Health and founding co-director of the university’s Racial Justice Institute. In 2021, he created a research center within the institute called the Center for Men’s Health Equity to study how racism is gendered in men’s lives and what can be done to achieve health equity.

Griffith initially studied clinical community psychology, specifically how—and why—young Black people become social activists. He applied what he learned there to his work in public health, where he thought about ways to focus measures that could be taken to implement lasting, structural change.

“Listen to the people who are experiencing the problems you are trying to understand.”

—Derek M. Griffith, Ph.D.

“Black men are dying at higher rates from things like COVID-19, cancer, and heart disease and have a much shorter life expectancy than every other group except American Indian and Alaska Native men,” he says. “Yet there is very little attention in scholarly literature as to why and what can be done about it.”

Griffith recalls learning about a successful obesity intervention program, which was created for and by Black people, but the sample was 90% women. When he inquired about the representation of the study participants, he was told that men just “didn’t want to participate.”

“That answer never sat well with me because it suggested that there was nothing we as scientists needed to do to increase Black men’s participation in these studies,” he says.

It is important to create better strategies to improve Black men’s health because the racial gap in health is driven largely by the poor health of Black men. “While there is a tendency to assume gender differences in health are due to men’s unhealthy behavior, this ignores how the context that shapes health behavior is gendered,” says Griffith.

Griffith’s center focuses on the health and well-being of men who are at the margins of men’s health and health equity. The center works with leading groups like the World Health Organization, The Lancet Commission on Gender and Global Health, and Global Action on Men’s Health, to advance the efforts to include men in programmatic and policy efforts to promote health and achieve health equity.

“The key to our approach is that it builds from interviews, focus groups, and other qualitative approaches. We have learned that we have to begin by listening to the people who are experiencing the problems you are trying to understand—it’s possible that they also have the solutions,” advises Griffith.

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