Progress for Some, But Not All in Health

Why do significant racial and ethnic health disparities continue to persist although the population as a whole (all races) is improving on many indicators?

By Christina M. Ciociola / April 07, 2017

This past fall, The Community Foundation was a lead supporter of publishing the second Greater New Haven Community Index, prepared by DataHaven. The Index is a comprehensive, far-reaching statistical portrait of our community as of 2016.

Shortly thereafter, The Foundation released its Community Progress Report summarizing the key findings from the Index. The Community Progress Report is the second in an ongoing series, and it will be updated every three years.

What we know from the data and certainly from what we are learning through our New Haven Healthy Start Initiative is that Connecticut and Greater New Haven are doing well, enjoying improvement across many indicators of community well being.

Infant mortality is declining, low birth weight is declining, life expectancy is increasing, smoking is going down, mortality rates from heart disease are declining, more people have health insurance and so on.

BUT, health disparities continue to be a particular concern for communities of color especially among the black communities in our region and throughout the state. These communities have faced longstanding barriers to achieving improved health status. The disparities are evident in:

  • Infant Mortality
  • Higher Birth Rate Among Minority Teens (ages 15 to 19)
  • High Risk Occupations for Hispanics
  • Tuberculosis Affects Minorities Disproportionately
  • Inadequate and Unhealthy Housing
  • Colorectal Cancer Screening
  • Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke
  • Homicides
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension and Hypertension Control
  • Diabetes
  • HIV Infection

This of course is not just a problem in Connecticut, but across the country, despite an awareness of these disparities in the research, social service and public health sectors. As the region's largest funder of nonprofits, The Foundation makes investments in trying to understand why they exist, as well as investments in programs to address the underlying causes.

So, today I'm asking myself (and you, our community) to reflect on what you see and what you are experiencing:

What's really going on here? Have we made any progress? What are your thoughts on why these gaps persist?

What role does structural racism play?

Are these disparities primarily driven by race? What are some of the exacerbating factors? We know that income and place also play a role here, but for some indicators it doesn't matter. For example, we know through New Haven Healthy Start that African American women (regardless of income and neighborhood) are at a higher risk for experiencing the death of an infant.

Do you think the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the field of medicine has had an impact, direct or indirectly?

What are we doing right to address these issues? What work still needs to be done?

How can philanthropy and individual philanthropy play a role to end these disparities?

We'd like to hear from you.

Sources: CDC