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South, Southwest side neighborhoods rank unhealthiest in city



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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

The South and Southwest sides of Chicago are the worst in terms of residents’ health, when looking at incidents of breast cancer, HIV and other health issues.

That is according to a Northwestern University study of the 77 Chicago communities that spotlights what the city of Chicago says are among its key health priorities in a new public health agenda to be unveiled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday.

The study, released Monday, tracked the prevalence of childhood obesity, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy and other health issues. It also tracked resources and assets, such as parks, easy access to high-quality medical care, safe places to exercise and stores that sell affordable healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. It found:

†The South and Southwest sides have the highest breast cancer mortality rates, but few breast health services, such as mammogram testing sites. Breast health resources are concentrated in the north and northwest regions, which have the lowest breast cancer mortality rate.

†The South and Southwest sides have high rates of HIV infection, but HIV test sites are more plentiful in the north, central and west regions.

†Eight of 12 community areas with the highest numbers of potential patients per physician are in the Southwest and far South regions of the city.

The study also revealed major health disparities among blacks and Hispanics, compared with whites.

The report was done by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Public Health.

“The most stark finding is the lack of both community assets and health care resources,” said Romana Hasnain-Wynia, study co-author and director of Northwestern’s Center for Healthcare Equity. “…When people don’t have access to high quality health care, if they don’t have health insurance, if they don’t have availability of a clinic within their community, then they’re going to forgo getting the health care services that they need. That ends up costing society a great deal more than providing services upfront, especially preventive services such as screening services.”

The city says its new health agenda, called Healthy Chicago prioritizes those health issues and several others.

“We’ve seen disparities of health outcomes all over the country; we see it here in Chicago, and this is unacceptable,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, Chicago’s commissioner of health. “We are aware of a lot of the data (in the study). This was one of the main drivers to developing Healthy Chicago, our public health agenda.”

The agenda identifies 12 priorities, including cancer disparities, tobacco use, obesity and HIV prevention, adolescent health, heart disease and stroke, access to health care, healthy mothers and babies, communicable disease control and prevention, healthy homes, violence prevention and public health infrastructure.

The agenda sets targets to be achieved by 2020, including reducing the number of new HIV infection diagnoses from 1,166 in 2009 to 875 in 2020, reducing breast cancer mortality disparities between black and white women by 50 percent from 2007 levels and reducing the number of Chicagoans living in food deserts from the current roughly 384,000 to 200,000 by 2015 and to zero by 2020.

To address the issues, the city says it plans to partner with health care providers, public health partners, community-based organizations, and the business community.

The city’s efforts will “focus specifically on communities that are impacted the most,” said Dr. Choucair. “By focusing on these communities I think, we’ll be able to close the gap on disparities.”

He noted, for example, that given that black women are less likely to get breast cancer, but more likely to die from it means a focus needs to be on making sure black women have more access to mammography, better quality mammography and more timely treatment.

Targeted interventions could have a large impact on improving the health of Chicago’s neighborhoods, Hasnain-Wynia said.

Policymakers need to be “thinking about expanding primary care clinics, mammography screening centers,” she said. “We need to be thinking about how we are allocating our limited health care resources. I think if we hit the areas where there’s greatest need, where we know we can have a big impact, we can begin to see improvements over time in the health status of Chicago’s citizens and hopefully reduce the disparities that we know are very pervasive along the way.

The Northwestern study found among high school students in 2009, 22.6 percent of blacks and 22.4 percent of Hispanics were obese, compared to 11.8 percent of whites.

Regarding HIV diagnoses, the study noted in 2008, blacks in Chicago accounted for 60 percent of the HIV diagnoses in adolescents and adults, although they comprised only one third of Chicago’s population.

In examining breast cancer mortality, the report showed the cancer mortality rate for black women is 1.62 times higher than for white women, citing the three-year average from 2005 to 2007. During that period, the rate for black women was 38.3 per 100,000 women, compared with 23.6 per 100,000 women for whites.

The death rate in Chicago from motor vehicle accidents was higher among blacks than whites, the report said, citing 2007 data. The rate was 11.3 per 100,000 people, for blacks, compared with 5.5 per 100,000 for whites.

The report also showed that in 2007, 95 percent of teen births occurred among blacks and Hispanics.

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