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Systemic Racism is a Public Health Issue

February 11, 2021

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and continue to educate ourselves on the rich history and culture of Black Canadians. Rather than write a celebratory piece, we wanted to draw attention to systemic racism and what that means for public health and the field of nutrition.

If you are reading this, you likely have a connection to the health field, or hope to in the future. We point this out because the courses required to pursue this career path often include teachings about the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). In your learnings did you ever reflect on why and how race/racism is a SDOH?

According to the Canadian Public Health Association, racism is a “social construct that has been embedded in institutions for generations”1, and is recognized as a public health issue, as it “interacts and amplifies every other SDOH, law and policy creating barriers for racialized groups and Indigenous Peoples”2. As one might predict, the list of barriers is lengthy and affects just about every, if not all, aspects of a person’s life, including the ability to “attain education, access to employment, fair compensation, housing and appropriate unbiased health care”2. In saying this, systemic racism results in the flourishing of health inequities – “for example, higher rates of chronic health conditions, communicable diseases, mental health challenges and earlier death”2. Since February is also Heart Month, let’s look at the stats! According to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute “First Nations people and people of African or Asian descent are at higher risk of developing heart disease”3. Unfortunately, this stat is not siloed to heart disease, as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic around who is contracting the virus and who is being affected the most. 2020 was undeniably a difficult year. However, it was also a wake-up call if you will, shining a light on how systemic racism manifests in our society.

So where do we go from here? Registered dietitian Aja Gyimah wrote an article in the summer of 2020 identifying 5 tips to help work toward anti-racism in dietetics. Gyimah’s tips are as follows;

  1. Get educated and speak up4
  2. Make nutrition information accessible4
  3. Get curious and ask questions, respectfully4
  4. Celebrate healthy foods from all cultures4
  5. Advocate to make the profession more diverse4

Our team at Nutrition Connections will be starting with awareness and education, recognizing there is much we need to unlearn and learn. We plan to bring these learnings to our work and find ways that our organization can advocate (or contribute to) social justice and the changes needed to dismantle systematic racism and advocate for change. We acknowledge that this is not a one-month undertaking and are committed to continuing this work into the future.

Check out these resources to learn more:

Race, Health & Happiness podcast with Dr. Onye Nnorom

Diversify Dietetics

Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) Toolkits on Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion

Race Forward: What is Systemic Racism? (Videos)

The National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health: Webinars on Racism, Anti-Racism and Racial EquityUrban Alliance on Race Relations


  1. Canadian Public Health Association. (2018). Racism is a public health issue in Canada—it’s time to speak out. Retrieved from:
  2. Ontario Public Health Association. (2020). Position statement and resolution on anti-racism for consideration at OPHA’s October 26, 2020 annual general meeting. Retrieved from:
  3. University of Ottawa Heart Institution. (n.d.). Ethnicity. Retrieved from:
  4. Aja Gyimah. (2020). 5 Tips for anti-racism in dietetics. Retrieved from:


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