African Americans in Washington, D.C., are six times more likely than whites to die from diabetes- related complications, according to a recent Georgetown report being submitted to a mayoral commission. This sobering finding is one of many in the report, which looked at health disparities in the nation’s capital. The study was requested by Georgetown history professor Maurice Jackson, chair of the District of Columbia Commission on African American Affairs, and carried out by Christopher King, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing & Health Studies (NHS).
The report includes the fact that African American men live 15 fewer years than their white counterparts, and are 3.5 times more likely to die of prostate cancer. African American families are also three and a half times more likely to live below the poverty line. The greatest health disparities take place in the southeastern part of the city, where African Americans make up approximately 90 percent of the population.
“We have to think about the root causes of these racial differences in health outcomes,” explains King, author of numerous scholarly articles on health equity and disparities. “Historically, we’ve placed more emphasis on the health care system as a means of addressing the problem, and less emphasis on complex social factors.
“So in addition to health outcomes, this report focuses on the socioeconomic conditions that drive health,” he adds.
Those drivers include stark differences in unemployment rates (19 percent in African American majority Ward 7 versus 3.4 percent in majority white Ward 3), median household income ($40,000 for blacks versus $115,000 for whites), and education (less than 25 percent of blacks 25 and older hold bachelor’s degrees versus 50 percent for all residents).
While access to culturally tailored, high-quality health care is important, the report presents a number of recommendations that address social, economic, political, and environmental factors.
“Historically, our culture has had a medical focus on health disparities and relied on the health care sector to close the gap,” King explains. “But improvements have been marginal. An expanded ecosystem of players must be at the table.”
NHS Dean Patricia Cloonan praised the report, and notes that her school works to “translate Georgetown’s Jesuit values into action in the important domain of health.”
“Leading efforts to develop this significant report on critical health disparities in D.C. spotlights our commitment to community-based engagement and promoting health equity,” she says. “Professor King and his team, including our students, have done a great job in underscoring areas of focus and offering key recommendations.”