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Renowned Social Scientist Dr. David R. Williams Gives the First Renée Royak-Schaler Memorial Lecture in Health Disparities

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Renée Royak-Schaler
 Renée Royak-Schaler

Given the high quality of medical care in the United States, you might think the life expectancy of Americans would be among the longest in the world. But such is not the case. In fact, the U.S. is near the bottom of industrialized countries on health, ranking 33rd in life expectancy in 2006.

“All Americans are far less healthy than we could and should be,” according to David R. Williams, Ph.D, M.P.H, the Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University. Dr. Williams gave the inaugural Renée Royak-Schaler Memorial Lecture in Health Disparities at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His address was titled “Making America Healthier for All: How Social Policies Can Promote Health.”

Dr. Williams is an internationally renowned social scientist whose research has focused on the complex ways in which race, racial discrimination, socioeconomic status and religion can affect physical and mental health.

David R. Williams, Ph.D, M.P.H
“Dr. Williams has made major contributions to the advancement of health equity in the United States,” said Jay Magaziner, Ph.D., M.S.Hyg., Professor and Chair of Epidemiology and Public Health at the School of Medicine. “It is indeed an honor that Dr. Williams agreed to deliver this inaugural lecture, and to meet with our students, faculty, and community leaders during his visit.”

Dr. Williams says low socioeconomic status (SES) is a contributing factor to poor health and an increased risk of premature death, and there is a strong connection between SES and race. He points out that:

  • African Americans and multiple other minorities have lower levels of education, income, professional status, and wealth than whites. These racial differences in SES are the major reason for racial differences in health.
  • Education and income are generally more strongly associated with health status than race.
  • Racial differences in health status decrease substantially when racial groups are compared at similar levels of SES.

Dr. Williams emphasized the need for new policies that effectively address racial and social inequities in health and the political will and committment to implement those policies. "Our greatest need is in a systematic and comprehensive manner to use all of the current knowlege that we have," said Dr. Williams.  "The scientific research is very clear," said Dr. Williams.  "Where we live, work, learn, and play have more to do with our health than going to a doctor."

"Dr. Williams has been involved in the development of health policy at the highest levels of our federal government," said E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "He has held several elected and appointed positions in many powerful national organizations focused on improving the health of all Americans and reducing racial and socioeconomic gaps in health."

Dr. Williams also developed the Everyday Discrimination Scale, currently one of the most widely used measures to assess perceived discrimination in health studies. He has made numerous national television appearances, including ABC News, CNN, PBS, C-SPAN and the Discovery Channel.

The Memorial Lecture in Health Disparities is supported by a generous gift from the family of the late Dr. Renée Royak-Schaler, a behavioral scientist whose research focused on health disparities. Until her sudden death in 2011, Dr. Royak-Schaler directed the Master of Public Health Program, spearheaded the formation of our dual degree programs, and taught students in the MPH, MS, and PhD Programs. The family of Dr. Royak-Schaler family established this lecture to honor her memory and legacy, and her abiding commitment to health equity, cancer prevention and survivorship among African Americans, and the elimination of disparities across the continuum of cancer care. Attending the lecture were Dr. Royak-Schaler's husband, Jeffrey, daughter Magda, and son-in-law Michael.

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 (L-R) Jeffrey Schaler, PhD; Magda Schaler-Haynes, JD, MPH; David R. Williams, PhD, MPH; Michael Haynes

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