Valley forum focuses on regional agenda to improve health inequities

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Valley forum focuses on regional agenda to improve health inequities

The Central Valley Healthy Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno has released preliminary findings from a ground-breaking report indicating that where people live in the San Joaquin Valley has a profound influence on their health, quality of life and length of productive life.

The research will be published in fall as “Equity in Health and Well-Being Equity in the San Joaquin Valley: A New Approach.”

The preliminary information was made available during a Place Matters: San Joaquin Valley Regional Equity Forum on Wednesday, May 26, at the St. Paul Newman Center’s Cardinal Newman Hall, just west of Fresno State. The forum brought together over 150 regional key stakeholders working to develop a sound regional agenda to decrease health inequities.

Leaders in air and water quality, healthy food access, physical activity environments, access to health care, affordable housing and development contributed to the day-long discussion of how the environments Valley residents live in shape health and determine years of productive life.

Major findings revealed:

  • Huge differences in the number of years of productive life lost before age 65 based on the different places that people live. The range was 17-74 years lost per 1,000 people, higher than California as a whole.
  • There were large disparities among avoidable hospitalizations when compared by zip code and other indicators such as: neighborhood poverty, segregation and age. Avoidable hospitalization visits ranged from 48 to 480 per 10,000 people.
  • Poverty was the main determinant of years of productive life years lost and it was at its highest in poorest areas. Controlling for poverty, urban and segregated communities lost more years of potential life.
  • Rates of avoidable hospitalizations were higher in poorer and more heavily immigrant communities, but when controlling for poverty, they were lowest in rural, segregated communities. Non-segregated, rural communities had fewer immigrants and much older populations.

“It is evident that health and quality of life are linked to where people live,” said Dr. John Capitman, executive director of the Central Valley Health Policy Institute, the Nickerson Professor of Public Health at Fresno State and lead author of the report.

“Broad inequities are associated with accumulated challenges in poverty, housing and transportation, air quality, access to jobs, schools and recreation,” added Capitman.

The report recommends several calls to develop a regional equity agenda and generate stronger collaboration among regional and neighborhood groups seeking to improve Valley living conditions. The report provides a comprehensive picture of regional health inequity challenges so key stakeholders and policymakers can advocate for improvements in environmental quality, human development and health promotion programs, community and economic development and neighborhood revitalization efforts.

“Regardless of how people feel about the new health reform law, it’s only a first step toward addressing the needs of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population – communities of color,” said Dr. Brian Smedley, vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., and keynote speaker for the forum.

Smedley added, “Insurance coverage alone won’t close persistent racial and ethnic health inequities. A growing body of public health research demonstrates that differences in neighborhood conditions – which are profound due to persistent residential segregation – are a more important predictor of health. Therefore, the law’s attention to community-based primary prevention is its most important element.”

“With the single act of cleaning the air, the Valley could avert a litany of health costs, including: 150,000 school absences, 68,000 work absences, 500 non-fatal heart attacks, a half million days of reduced activity in adults and up to 820 premature deaths each year,” said Jenny Saklar, campaign and programs manager for the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.

“The truth is, we needed clean air yesterday. Now is the time for all sectors—government, industry, and the public—to get together, roll up their sleeves, and get to work at reducing all possible air pollutants and restore health and vibrancy to the Valley,” she added.

“These data clearly show that life opportunities are unequal and unfair across San Joaquin Valley communities. There are many efforts by regional and neighborhood groups to improve living conditions,” said Capitman, adding that public and private policymaking efforts and systems put in place to effect change “focus on individuals and so are not yet addressing the cumulative historical and current impacts of Valley places on life chances.”

“Because many of the regional and neighborhood efforts to improve living conditions in our most impacted communities have often been isolated from each other, the full measure of despair in many Valley places is not well-recognized by policymakers,” added Capitman.

“By collaborating to form a regional policy agenda, sharing information and analysis, and supporting each others’ efforts,” he said, “organizations and groups seeking greater fairness in life chances may have greater impact.”

More information is available at www.cvhpi.org .