Throughout Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America, we have seen how conditions in which we live, learn, work and play affect the health of individuals and entire communities. We have also seen how these conditions for health are unequally experienced based on race and ethnicity and economic disadvantage. Restricted access to the conditions needed for health is a human rights issue – one that has characterized the past, but doesn’t have to be repeated in the future.
So, what does the future hold? In most societies, hope for the future is placed in the opportunities created for children and the dreams children have for their own lives. What does this mean for the U.S.? We now know that the conditions needed for health—housing, education, food—are needed by all people. But we also know these things are especially needed by children. Unhealthy conditions are particularly harmful during pregnancy and early childhood, and the impact can extend throughout life. And yet, in our country, nearly 25% of all children live in poverty. Nearly 40% of black and Latino children are poor. These issues affect us all, and the unrealized potential of so many limits the potential we can together achieve as a society.
The U.S. is undergoing a demographic transition. For example, large numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Asia are settling in the U.S. In 2010, the percentage of Hispanics and Asians among U.S. residents increased from 5 to 16% and from 1 to 4%, respectively. During the same period, non-Hispanic whites decreased from 83% in 1970 to 66% of the total population. These trends are expected to continue in the future, as minority populations collectively become the majority.
Ensuring the health and well-being of today’s children can be viewed as a “down payment” on the health and well-being of the society of tomorrow, and for the next generation. We can provide opportunities for all children to develop physically, emotionally and intellectually. These opportunities for all to be healthy are critical if America is to become a healthier, safer, more equitable and more prosperous nation. A healthy future is within our grasp.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.”