Chicago's Health Disparities Are Based on Location, Not Income

Study finds that racial segregation may be the key to Chicago’s health crisis.

Posted: 08/02/2012 03:41 PM EDT

It’s been well documented that in the U.S. poverty helps fuels poor health — obesity, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses. And that makes sense, given that more money means better access to quality health care and the ability to afford healthier foods and obtain a gym membership to work out.

But a recent study conducted about people living in Cook County, Illinois, suggests that income doesn’t always explain racial health disparities. According to the report Place Matters for Health in Cook County: Ensuring Opportunities for Good Health for All, researchers from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Study in Washingtonn D.C. found that where you live, especially if your area is racially segregated, is a pretty good predictor of how healthy you will be and how long will you live.

The Grio reported that Chicago and its suburbs are dubbed the “nation’s most segregated metropolitan areas with 75 percent of all African-American youth living in communities where 90 percent of people are poor, while 85 percent of white children live in communities were more than 90 percent of people are economically sound. And with that segregation means that neighborhoods of color do not have the same investment as communities that are mostly white, especially when it comes to food access:

According to Dr. Daniel Block, a Chicago State University geography professor and food access mapping specialist, the maps don’t lie.

“You can pretty much predict the distance to the nearest store… by where the major African American areas are in the city. We can’t say that necessarily one causes the other, but the correlation is amazing,” Block said.

“When you look into maps, it just kind of shows what it is there but not necessarily how it affects others’ lives,” said Murray. “Over and over again we’ve heard Englewood neighborhood people talking about how disrespected they feel about the stores in their community… they compare it to going into a store in a white neighborhood where things seem to smell better and the presentation seems to be better,” Murray said.

These findings are especially relevant given that a University of California, Los Angeles study found that Illinois has one of the largest racial life expectancy gaps in the country. Throughout the state, African-American men live eight years less than white men and African-American women live six years less than white women.

While the city officials have gone on record saying that they want to work closely with the Joint Center on making change in the city, the report's researchers have specific recommendations that they believe will make a difference that include making housing and food more affordable and accessible; creating programs and policies that lessen the economic and neighborhood inequality and better monitoring health outcomes and accessibility throughout the country.


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(Photo: REUTERS/Scott Olson)

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