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Nancy Krieger: COVID-19, structural racism, embodied histories, and the two-edged sword of data: structural problems require structural solutions

April 23, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Nancy Krieger_photo

On April 23, 2021, Nancy Krieger, Professor of Social Epidemiology, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the HSPH Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health., Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, will present “COVID-19, structural racism, embodied histories, and the two-edged sword of data: structural problems require structural solutions” as part of the Carolina Population Center’s 2020-2021 Interdisciplinary Research Seminar Series.

Suggested readings from Dr. Krieger


COVID-19 has pulled the thread, starkly revealing both profound connections – and profound divisions – both within the US and within and between countries worldwide, with risk of infection, illness, and death profoundly and inequitably socially structured. Analyzing and acting to alter the myriad ways in which structural racism systemically generates health inequities, including for COVID-19, requires engaging with the two-edged sword of data. This sword cuts deeply with respect to the profound challenges of conceptualizing, operationalizing, and analyzing the very data deployed – i.e., racialized categories – to document racialized health inequities. In my presentation, I use the example of COVID-19 to dissect the sword’s two edges: (1) the non-use (Edge #1) and (2) problematic use (Edge #2) of data on racialized groups – but the point is data for health justice. Because structural problems require structural solutions, for both data and action for health justice, I conclude with recommendations for a new feasible enforceable institutional mandate for the reporting and analysis of publicly-funded work involving racialized groups and health data. A core requirement is that racialized health data must always be conceptually justified and analyzed in relation to relevant data about racialized societal inequities. A new opportunity arises as US government agencies re-engage with their work, with a stated commitment to racial and economic justice, to move forward with structural measures to sharpen and strengthen the work for health equity.


Nancy Krieger is Professor of Social Epidemiology and American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor, in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and Director of the HSPH Interdisciplinary Concentration on Women, Gender, and Health. She received her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1989. Dr. Krieger is an internationally recognized social epidemiologist, with a background in biochemistry, philosophy of science, and the history of public health, combined with over 35 years of activism linking issues involving social justice, science, and health. In 2004, she became an ISI highly cited scientist (reaffirmed: 2015 ISI update), a group comprising “less than one-half of one percent of all publishing researchers,” and in 2019 she was ranked as being “in the top 0.01% of scientists based on your impact” for both total career and in 2017 by a new international standardized citations metrics author database, including as #1 among the 90 top scientists listed for 2017 with a primary field of public health and secondary field of epidemiology ( In 2013 she received the Wade Hampton Frost Award from the Epidemiology Section of the American Public Health Association, and in 2015, she was awarded the American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professorship, which was renewed in 2020; also in 2020, she was awarded the American College of Epidemiology’s “Outstanding Contributions to Epidemiology” award.

Informed by an analysis of the history and politics of epidemiology and public health, Dr. Krieger’s work addresses three topics: (1) conceptual frameworks to understand, analyze, and improve the people’s health, including her ecosocial theory of disease distribution, focused on embodiment and equity; (2) etiologic research on societal determinants of population health and health inequities, including structural racism and other types of adverse discrimination; and (3) methodologic research to improve monitoring of health inequities. She is author of Epidemiology and The Peoples Health: Theory and Context (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2011) and editor for the OUP series Small Books Big Ideas in Population Health” (starting with Political Epidemiology & The Peoples Health, by Jason Beckfield, OUP, 2018; Climate Change & The Peoples Health, by Sharon Friel, OUP, 2019; and Critical Epidemiology & The Peoples Health by Jaime Brielh, OUP, 2021). She also is editor of Embodying Inequality: Epidemiologic Perspectives (Baywood Press, 2004) and co-editor, with Glen Margo, of AIDS: The Politics of Survival (Baywood Publishers, 1994), and, with Elizabeth Fee, of Womens Health, Politics, and Power: Essays on Sex/Gender, Medicine, and Public Health (Baywood Publishers, 1994). In 1994 she co-founded, and still chairs, the Spirit of 1848 Caucus of the American Public Health Association, which focuses on links between social justice and public health.


We record as many videos as possible. You can see previous events here.

This event will be held on Zoom. You can register here. We will post a recording after the talk. You can see previous events here.



April 23, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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