Place, Race and Health: How is Your Community Doing?

Racial and ethnic inequities in the United States are highlighted in the 2018 County Health Rankings. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Soundbite News Service

WASHINGTON — If you want to know how healthy your county is, check the ZIP code. For the ninth year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute have released a report showing how nearly every county in the United States is doing, as well as what gaps persist.

The report looked at more than 30 factors that influence how long and how well people live. Some of those include rates of smoking, alcohol and drug use, obesity, high school graduation and income inequality.

This year, the rankings revealed the gaps that persist – not only by place, but also among racial and ethnic groups. Matt Trujillo, program officer with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said people of color are disproportionately affected when it comes to health and well-being.

“In order for folks to live the healthiest life possible, it’s important to remove barriers,” Trujillo said; “things like residential segregation, low-paying jobs, poor quality education so that everyone does have that equal opportunity to be healthy.”

Trujillo said rural counties still struggle more than urban counties to provide equal opportunities. He noted that in 2016, the unemployment rate for adults in the bottom-performing counties was 7.5 percent, compared with 3.2 percent for adults in the top-performing counties.

When it comes to education, the report showed that one out of every five youths in bottom-performing counties does not graduate from high school in four years. And that figure climbed to one in four for American Indian, Alaskan Native, black, and Hispanic youth.

Trujillo said those numbers often dovetail with the child poverty rate, which is still higher than before the recent recession. But, Trujillo added, since the data collection began nine years ago, some communities have successfully employed strategies to close the opportunity gap.

“One of which is Kansas City, that have really taken a concerted effort to address disparities and have community coalitions,” he said. “Community members speak to each other to address the issue of disparities head-on.”

The report showed that unfair bank lending practices and property tax-based school funding formulas contribute to racial disparities. Another worrisome data point showed that after nearly a decade of improvement, there are early signs that the percentage of babies born at low birthweight may be on the rise – often considered a key measure of health and quality of life.