Many people throughout Chattanooga and the region are unhealthy. We eat too much. We smoke too much. Too many infants are born prematurely and the infant mortality rate is unacceptable. Compared to the US average, we die too soon. All that according to a report released Friday by the Och's Center for Metropolitan Studies
, a group which conducts independent data analysis and policy research to "improve the quality of life in the Chattanooga region."
The newly-released report says disproportionate numbers of African Americans have heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Once the diseases are contracted, African Americans are more likely than whites to die from them. These disparities coupled with high rates of unemployment, violent crime and troubled schools in the urban core of Chattanooga contribute to high rates of incarceration, hopelessness and early death.
The key findings of the Ochs Center’s 2013 State of the Chattanooga Region Health Report highlight major racial health care disparities in Chattanooga. Poor people and African Americans are less likely to have private insurance and to die early. The region is plagued by a series of lifestyle choices that result in high rates of obesity, disease and expensive care. Infant mortality rates for African American women are higher than for women in less developed countries such as Mexico, Bulgaria, Columbia, China, Jordan, Oman, Moldova, Panama and Romania.
The data presented in SOCRR paints a sobering picture. Many of the concerns identified in the report are not new. The key findings of the SOCRR Health report highlight longstanding racial differences in health care access and outcomes. While the report does not explore the potential relationship between health disparities and community disorder and violence, the data suggest that marginalized communities are most impacted by complex, inter-related problems. A concerted effort to address these problems is needed to improve the quality of life of residents living in concentrated areas of disadvantage.
In more positive news, age-adjusted 3-year mortality rates for most major causes of death have decreased in Hamilton County since the 2001-03 time period, but they remain higher than the United States average—especially for stroke, chronic lung respiratory disease (CLRD), and diabetes. The most dramatic positive gains occurred early in the decade between 2001 and 2005. More recently, the rates have stabilized.
Community dialogue is needed to prioritize a health care agenda for Hamilton County and Chattanooga. Communities that suffer from high poverty, high rates of violent crime, low educational attainment and underperforming schools are literally dying young. In terms of explaining the outcomes, it is difficult to disentangle cause and effect. Poverty matters. Education matters. Health access matters. The challenge for Chattanooga is to identify the grassroots causes of these outcomes and to make direct investments in programs and policies that improve the quality of life for all Chattanoogans.
The Ochs Center says it is poised to make positive contributions to solving these complex problems by developing a robust set of community indicators to track community progress on economic, social, cultural and health outcomes into the future. The Chattanooga Indicators will, for the first time, empower community leaders to measure change over time and to analyze the outcomes of their investments. Community stakeholders will be able to access data, visualize it and apply it to solving longstanding disparities in health and other contexts.CLICK HERE
to read the full report.