Recent research from the VCU Center on Society and Health found that life expectancy across the metropolitan Washington region varies by as much as 27 years and health can differ drastically within a single county, from neighborhood to neighborhood. The report – Uneven Opportunities: How Conditions for Wellness Vary Across the Metropolitan Washington Region – was commissioned by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) in order to better understand health status and health disparities across the region. The study examines the health of the community, focusing on life expectancy and the factors that shape health.
In addition to calculating life expectancy in the area’s 1,223 census tracts, researchers at the Center also produced a new tool for gauging the opportunity for health, the Metropolitan Washington Healthy Places Index (HPI), which is based on data from 48 indicators spanning six domains. Statistical methods were used to measure the influence of these domains on life expectancy. The Metropolitan Washington HPI sums up this information as a score, ranging from 0 to 100, to quantify the conditions for health in each census tract.
Overall, findings show that health in metropolitan Washington is shaped less by health care than by factors like income, education, housing, transportation, and the environment. In addition, people of color and immigrants were more likely to live in neighborhoods with fewer resources (“islands of disadvantage” as referred to in the report), which lack the conditions for good health.
Committee member, Alexandria Health District Director, Dr. Stephen Haering said, “The Health Officials Committee hopes community members, government agencies, health care providers, and policy makers will use this study to identify the health disparities in their jurisdictions, and develop policies and strategies to address these disparities. We in public health are here to help our partners in our localities interpret the results and work toward meaningful solutions.”
The study examined 10 geographic areas: the District of Columbia; Maryland (Charles County, Frederick County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County); and Virginia (City of Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County). Data included 66 indicators in six “domains:” education, economic and other household resources (e.g., food access), housing, transportation, air and water, and the social environment.
The report was commissioned by the COG Health Officials Committee to advance dialogue and action to help ensure healthy communities for all area residents. The health officials will be sharing the report in their communities and among policymakers and government officials in different disciplines. They also plan to promote the report with businesses, nonprofits, and philanthropies to foster a multi-sector approach focused on increasing health opportunities for all residents.
As a first step, the report will be presented at today’s COG Region Forward Coalition meeting at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health. The coalition brings together elected officials and representatives of the business, nonprofit, and philanthropic communities.
The Metropolitan Washington Healthy Places Index (HPI) builds upon the methods and approach of the California Healthy Places Index, which was jointly developed by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health. More information about the Healthy Places Index family of projects can be found at: http://healthyplacesindex.org/.