By Fernando De Maio, PhD, Patricia O’Campo, PhD, David Ansell, MD, MPH, and Raj C. Shah, MD
Health inequities — differences that are avoidable, unnecessary and unjust — are a striking feature of cities in the United States, including Chicago. While it is true that all of our city’s 77 communities have experienced an improvement in some key health indicators over the past three decades, inequities between communities have grown over this time.
New research from the Center for Community Health Equity — a collaboration of Rush University Medical Center and DePaul University — explores the prevalence of low birth weight deliveries in Chicago communities. (Our study defined this prevalence as the percentage of live births at less than 2,500 grams, or roughly 5.5 pounds.) This statistic is an important indicator of population health and is widely used to study the health effects of racism.
Good health, as we have seen again and again, is a product of social justice, and Chicago’s deep-rooted racial/ethnic segregation harms the health of its residents. Across Chicago communities, the proportion of low birth weight is 10 percent, with the best-off communities near 3 percent and the worst-off communities approaching 20 percent. Segregation plays an important role in explaining these differences: The most highly segregated African-American communities, among them Avalon Park and Washington Heights, have the most prevalent low birth weight rates. Accounting for 70 percent of the differences between communities are segregation, unemployment and low educational attainment, which are factors that all highly correlated with low birth weight.