Reports Highlighting Health Disparities Capture Attention of Policy-Makers

Author: Jake Cowan and Tom Kingsley
Date Posted: August 29, 2011

Based on data in the Health of King County 2006 and Communities Count 2005 reports from the County public health department (Public Health Seattle-King County - PHSKC), knowledge and interest in health disparities increased among local policymakers. Out of concern for the persistence and size of disparities described in these reports, the King County Board of Health requested that PHSKC report back on evidence-based interventions that address health disparities. A committee of community-based organizations, public clinics, policymakers and PHSKC staff will make recommendations informed by a literature review focusing on diabetes, asthma and obesity. There is a clear expectation that the report back will receive attention and potential funding and prioritization by policymakers and county elected officials and decision-makers.

Both Communities Count 2005 and Health of King County 2006 also highlighted social and health challenges in South King County, including hunger, lack of affordable housing, discrimination, safety and crime, domestic violence, infant mortality and adolescent births, lower life expectancy, chronic disease and mental health. The South County Human Service Forum, which was organized to support the effective delivery of human services in this area, cited the evidence from these reports in its promotion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a plan to end homelessness, early childhood interventions, a school-based domestic violence curriculum and physical activity (e.g., assembling an inventory and creating maps of trails, paths and walking areas).  

The Health of King County 2006, the health department’s web-based omnibus report on the health status of King County residents, was released in January 2006. A range of health indicators—including social determinants of health, behavioral risks, access to care and diseases—are described by age, gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, time trend and place of residence.

Disparities in the indicators, neighborhood analyses and maps were major foci. For instance, a summary table of current data, trends and disparities6 showed large disparities by race, poverty level and/or Health Planning Area (small areas developed for looking at neighborhoods and suburban cities) for adolescent births, diabetes mortality, HIV/AIDS, homicide, drug-induced deaths, coverage by health insurance and other diseases and risk factors. Links to King County Core Indicators for Public Health, a systematic, web-based inventory of population-based health data and Health Planning Area-level maps sent readers to the King County GIS virtual map counter, where they could view maps showing neighborhood-level data for health outcomes (see Exhibit 4).

Exhibit 4: Childhood asthma hospitalization map, showing higher rates in central/southeast Seattle and South King County

Communities Count is a collaborative initiative that has developed social and health indicators for King County through a broad and deep community process. The mission of this initiative is to improve community conditions through information advocacy – providing accurate and timely reports on the conditions that matter to King County families and communities in order to stimulate action. Communities Count: Social and Health Indicators Across King County is a report that is released every two to three years to track progress over time for the four regions and King County as a whole. The report presents indicator data at the neighborhood level areas when available and includes differences by income, education level and race/ethnicity. Over 60,000 households in King County received the summary reports and 5,000 copies of each full report are disseminated.

This story was initially published in Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy in June 2007.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from drafts by Sandy Ciske and David Solet of Public Health – Seattle & King County. Public Health – Seattle & King County is the Seattle partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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