News Release

Report Highlights Health Disparities Throughout Region

Jun 29, 2009

Washington, D.C. – With approximately five million residents, the metropolitan Washington region is one of the most populous and diverse regions in the country. How healthy are those five million people? A report released today by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and the Washington Grantmakers (WG) indicates that health can differ quite dramatically depending upon where one lives in the region.

Consider just a few of the report’s findings:

  • There is almost a 10-year difference in life expectancy depending upon where in the region a person lives, with the lowest average life expectancy at 72 years for residents of the District of Columbia, compared to an average life expectancy of over 81 years for residents of Montgomery County;
  • The infant mortality rate per 1,000 births is roughly two and half times greater in the highest jurisdiction (Prince George’s County with 11.9 deaths per 1,000 births) than in the lowest (Arlington and Loudoun Counties tied at 4.2 deaths per 1,000 births);
  • The percentage of people 18-64 of all income levels throughout the region who lack health insurance ranges from 11.8 percent in Loudoun County to 25.2 percent in Manassas.

The report, Community Health Status Indicators for Metropolitan Washington: 2009, examines the region’s health, overall and by jurisdiction. According to the report, health is more than the absence of disease; it involves physical, mental and social well being. Health is not simply a matter of genetics, personal behaviors, and lifestyle choices. Nor is it just a matter of insurance coverage and access to healthcare services. Race and ethnicity, education and income, family history and early life experience, even the neighborhoods and homes in which people live are important factors in determining health. These factors are collectively referred to as the “social determinants” of health.

“When thinking about health, we all too often think only about health care – the services of doctors, hospitals, clinics, and others who provide care to those who are already sick,” said Tamara Copeland, President of WG. “While health care is an essential component of any strategy to protect health, of equal importance are the other factors that can prevent health problems and improve basic health and well being.”

COG Executive Director David Robertson said that there were four major objectives for the report. “We wanted to provide a simple snapshot of the health of the region’s residents, identify issues that may be of regional concern, facilitate efforts to improve the population’s health status within and across jurisdictions, and encourage the public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors to work together to make the health of all residents among the best in the nation,” Robertson said.

The report does contain some good news, while demonstrating areas that need improvement said Dr. Kelly Woodward, Medical Director at the Alexandria Health Department and a member of the Health Indicators Workgroup. “Overall, the region is relatively healthy when compared to the United States at large. However, comparisons with ‘peer counties’ identified through the national indicators project suggest there is room for improvement – even in areas where the region’s jurisdictions generally did well in comparison with the United States,” Woodward said. “There are, however, notable variations among jurisdictions on some of the indicators, and several health issues common across the region.”

Click here to access the report.

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