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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Among Older Adults, Black Chicagoans’ Lives Are 2.5 Years Shorter Than White Folks, Study Finds

Lawndale neighbors plan to use the new Chicago Department of Public Health data to address health inequities on the West Side. "Knowledge is power," one leader said.

Adults featured in the the Chicago Department of Public Health's Databook on Older Adult Health.
Chicago Department of Public Health
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Among adults over the age of 65, black Chicagoans’ lives are on average 2.5 years shorter than their white and Latinx counterparts, a study by the Chicago Department of Public Health shows.

Considering all ages, a huge life expectancy gap exists for people living on the West Side, with West Garfield Park residents expected to live 16 years shorter lives than people in the Loop. But as Chicagoans continue to live longer, and the city’s population of older adults grows larger and more diverse, the Healthy Chicago Databook on Older Adult Health completed in August shows that health inequality persists among older folks even as health outcomes generally improve.

The public health department presented an overview of the databook to the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s health and wellness committee Tuesday, where neighborhood leaders and health advocates discussed ways they could use the new information to support their work. Medical providers, mental health care professionals, residents and representatives from health organizations like I Am Able, Sinai Health System and Lawndale Christian Health Center were in attendance.

Yaa Simpson, an epidemiologist with the public health department, said the city is working improve its community engagement efforts so that neighborhood groups can more easily turn research into action.

“Nowadays people are getting more specific about how to use data for advocacy, and that’s what I promote — advocacy work, planning work, your grant work, but definitely working that out for your constituents,” Simpson said.

About 3,000 older adults were surveyed for the databook, a sample size of about 10 percent of the total senior population in the city. The report shows which populations are living longer, the quality-of-life differences in older adults and where older adults are distributed around the city, health data on seniors which had never before been released by the city on such a scale until the summer.

By and large, Chicagoans are living longer which means the population of older folks is expected to steadily increase, the databook finds. But the survey also revealed that 46 percent of older adults would be unable to afford an unexpected expense of $400.

“That’s considered a benchmark for not having the resources that you need,” Simpson said.

About 36.2 percent of older adults reported living with a disability, while 19.5 percent reported they have difficulty doing certain tasks like shopping and running errands without assistance.

“We are now in the precipice where we can live longer and not have to have these disabilities or be physically challenged. And we need to make sure that we’re addressing this,” Simpson said.

The databook also emphasized that even as people age, health disparities persist.

Among older adults, black people on average die sooner that white and Latino people in Chicago. The report also showed that white folks were generally much more likely to be satisfied with their health care than black Chicagoans.

“As black people can make it to 65, you have the opportunity to live longer. But even when they do live longer, it’s still inequity in that piece. So we want to recognize that,”  Simpson said.

Credit: Provided
The survey showed that white older adults are more likely to be satisfied by their care than black older adults.

Debra Wesley, president of the Sinai Community Institute and chair of Lawndale’s health committee, said the databook is a powerful tool for West Side providers.

“Information is power,” she said.

Wesley said the committee hopes to dig deeper into the data to identify how things look for older adults in Lawndale, and how health networks can do better to help seniors.

Wesley also suggested using the data to help implement the award-winning North Lawndale Quality of Life Plan, the community-driven neighborhood plan that aims to improve health care access, mental health and physical wellbeing in the area.

The report could be useful for applying for grants and other funding, as the data collected by the public health department can is often used to determine how the city’s resources can be distributed, Wesley said.

In order to better serve older adults in the area, Wesley suggested that neighborhood leaders organize their resources more intentionally around issues faced by seniors, perhaps by forming a new committee that would focus on older adults.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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