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County Officials Announce Plans to Tackle Health Inequalities

(Updated 17/04/18) Arlington County officials are calling for action on health disparities among residents in two new reports released this week.

Officials outlined a plan for an “oversight entity to provide governance” on health equity policies as part of a report released yesterday (Thursday). The 27-page document includes the plan in a bid to reduce a 10-year life expectancy gap that exists based on where in Arlington you live, as first reported in 2016 by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation.

The “Destination 2027 Steering Committee” was formed last year to close that gap, stating that, “the presence of health inequities in Arlington is inconsistent with who we are and what we value as a community.” The committee is made up of 40 local organizations including the Virginia Hospital Center, police and first responders, and most county departments.

Details for how the group plans to achieve that are starting to come to light, including an open data project around health in the county.

“We are working to share a dashboard with data about health outcomes and community conditions,” Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director of the Department of Human Services, told ARLnow. “So stay tuned with that.”

“The public policies that have led to how our neighborhoods operate, how schools operate, how transportation occurs, often have some population’s benefit and others that are burdened,” said Reuben Varghese, the county’s Public Health Director, in a video yesterday. “And so that can lead to these groups having different life expectancy or other health outcomes.”

Yesterday the county also released the 2019 Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families (APCYF) Community Report which noted “striking disparities” in kid’s health that were “based on factors such as income, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and level of English proficiency.”

Some of the report’s findings include:

  • Hispanic youth were four times as likely to be obese as their white peers.
  • Ten percent of high school students reported going hungry at home.
  • Students with individual education plans (IEPs) were less likely to feel like they belonged in their school community compared to students without IEPS.
  • Forty-two percent of LGBT youth said they had been sexually harassed and were more likely to be depressed than other youth.
  • The total number of kids who said they received the necessary help for their depression “was so low for Black and Asian youth that a percentage could not be reported.”

The 56-page report compiled data from local, state, and federal sources, including the new APS “Your Voice Matters” survey and the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

“Nothing in particular was surprising, we noticed that the data confirmed many assumptions that we have heard,” Kimberly Durand, the coordinator for the partnership, told ARLnow.

“For example, Child Care and Mental Health continue to be of concern, and the data that we have compiled confirmed that,” she said.

The Steering Committee’s action report also shared some research from previous years that indicated:

  • Black residents in Arlington are hospitalized for asthma-related medical issues eight times more often than white residents.
  • Hispanic youth are 11 times more likely to become teen parents than their white classmates.
  • Arlington residents report poor mental health when earning less than $50,000 a year.

Durand’s youth report did found some improvements often associated with better health outcomes. Last year, 75 percent of Hispanic youth and students learning English graduated on time, compared to 61 percent graduating on time in the 2012-2013 year.

Arlington may have been nominated Virginia’s second healthiest county last month, but researchers have long noted residents’ health varies greatly across geographic, economic, and racial lines.

“While we may not be responsible for creating these conditions, each of us owns solving them,” said Destination 2027 co-chair Tricia Rodgers.

Photo via YouTube

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