Op/Ed By Candice Lucas on behalf of the African American Health Coalition
When it comes to your health, where you live matters. In fact, the social and physical environments in which you live can have a greater significance in determining your health outcome than your family history, or how often you go to the doctor.
It is important for you, and our community as a whole, to understand the “social determinants of health” – the conditions in which we are born, live, work, worship and age. These determinants include educational level, employment status, family culture and traditions, community resources, physical environment, individual behaviors, government policy, and race. The social determinants of health also take into account how the lack of access to quality, affordable and effective health care can contribute to poor health outcomes, and higher death rates in certain populations.
Within the last few decades, researchers have shown that the reasons people die prematurely from chronic diseases have more to do with their lifestyles and social conditions than they do with genetics and health care. Recent analysis of the causes of death here in Monroe County bears this out.
While the city of Rochester is composed of more than 20 different zip codes, the profound impact of the social determinants is glaringly evident in the health outcomes of eight of them: 14605, 14606, 14608, 14609, 14611, 14613, 14619 and 14621. These zip codes are home to our most vulnerable residents with the lowest socio-economic status. They have the largest concentrations of poverty, the least access to healthy foods, the highest crime rates, and a disproportionate number of residents living in substandard housing. African American men, women and children who reside in these zip codes – about 63 percent of all African Americans living in the nine-county Finger Lakes region – experience worse health outcomes than people living anywhere else in the region.
- They are more likely to have multiple, chronic and often preventable diseases.
- They live an average of 15 years less than people who live outside of these areas.
Combating the impact of the social determinants of health is a key goal of the African American Health Coalition. Convened by Finger Lakes Health System Agency, and comprised of representatives from community-based organizations, health professionals, and city residents, the coalition focuses on mobilizing the community to address health disparities, and improve the health status of African Americans residing in Monroe County, and its surrounding counties.
The coalition is pleased to collaborate with the Minority Reporter as a means of informing the community about these critical health issues. Through this column – What’s Goin’ On With Your Health? – the coalition will delve more deeply into the social determinants of health, discuss disease-specific topics, and raise awareness of pertinent community health issues that are relevant to you. We aim to galvanize community voices in advocacy, to address the link between environment and health.
Stay tuned for more articles from coalition members throughout the year to stay informed of the issues, and learn how you can help to improve the health of our community.
Candice A. Lucas MBA, is the chair of the African American Health Coalition. She is also director of community health services and the cancer services program of Monroe County at the URMC Center for Community Health. Ms. Lucas directs the operations of multiple community-based outreach programs aimed at improving the health status of Monroe County residents. She promotes physical activity and nutrition as a means of chronic disease prevention; screenings for prevention and early detection of breast, cervical and, colorectal cancers; career development and advancement of low-income workers in health care fields; and health literacy and education to empower patients and community members to be strong self-advocates.