African-American health and well-being subject of new study in St. Louis area

Findings to coincide with 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board; 50th anniversary of Civil Rights Act

By Leslie Gibson McCarthy

A new comprehensive, multi-disciplinary study on the health and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis could have significant local impact.

The research findings and a series of related policy briefs will culminate in a community conference in 2014, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The project is funded by the Missouri Foundation for Health and includes faculty from Washington University in St. Louis and from Saint Louis University. WUSTL's Institute for Public Health, the Brown School’s Policy Forum, and the St. Louis American are partners as well.


“This is unprecedented in that it will focus not only on the health issues of African Americans, but also education and economics,” says Jason Q. Purnell, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School and lead researcher on the project.

“African Americans bear a considerable burden of disease, disability and death in the St. Louis region,” Purnell says. “The goal with this project is to produce a series of policy briefs and a report that will identify the issues and offer real solutions.”

The research will focus on African Americans in the City of St. Louis and in St. Louis County. Policy briefs will be prepared in five areas:

  • A Multi-Sector Approach to Health Disparities in St. Louis
  • African American Educational Attainment and Health in St. Louis
  • Mental Health’s Impact on Education, Employment, and Physical Health among African Americans in St. Louis
  • Racial Composition of the St. Louis Region and the Association with Health
  • Addressing Risk Factors for Chronic Disease in African Americans in St. Louis

“Several important recent reports on health have included a focus on African Americans in St. Louis, but much of the emphasis has been on access to health care,” Purnell says. “We’re looking to broaden our focus to include the reasons there is such need for expanded health care access in the community.”

To do the research, Purnell assembled a team of African-American scholars that cuts across disciplines and institutions.

“We’re going to need all hands on deck to get things done,” Purnell says. “That’s another key to what we’re doing: Change is going to require a multi-sector approach – business, education, government, and non-profit organizations.

“Everyone’s going to have to be part of the process.”

The participating scholars from Washington University, in addition to Purnell, are:

Bettina F. Drake, PhD, assistant professor of surgery in Public Health Sciences at the School of Medicine;

Melody S. Goodman, PhD, assistant professor of surgery in Public Health Sciences at the School of Medicine;

Darrell L. Hudson, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School; and

William F. Tate, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences and chair of the Department of Education.

Saint Louis University faculty partners are:

Keith Elder, PhD, associate professor and chair, Department of Health Management & Policy for the College for Public Health & Social Justice; and

Keon Gilbert, DPhil, assistant professor at the College for Public Health & Social Justice.

A Community Partner Group with representatives from key sectors in the region is being formed to advise the scholars on the policy briefs and the final report.

Leslie McCarthy
Executive News Editor
(314) 935-6603
Jason Q. Purnell
Assistant Professor