COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Brown Chicagoans highlighted existing health disparities in our segregated city. Credit: Northwestern Memorial Hospital/Provided

CHICAGO — Black Chicagoans are dying an average of 8.8 years sooner than white residents — but the city is launching a plan to change that.

The city’s Healthy Chicago 2025 plan, released Thursday, will focus on closing the life expectancy gap and improving people’s health throughout Chicago. At the root of the gap are racism and racial inequities, according to the city, which means Chicago will need to be made a more equitable city in all ways to improve health here.

On average, Asian Chicagoans live 82.9 years, white residents live 80.2 years and Latino residents live 80 years, as of 2017, according to the Healthy Chicago 2025 report. But Black Chicagoans are living just 71.4 years — and the gap widens to 17 years in some communities, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

The biggest factors in this gap are chronic disease, fatal shootings, infant mortality, HIV and infectious disease and opioid overdoses, according to the report.

All those issues, and others that drive the gap, are rooted in systemic racism, officials said when announcing the plan Thursday.

“… It’s critically important that we name the root cause of illness and death … . And when we looked at this life expectancy gap, many people said it was violence. But it was not just violence: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer,” said Dr. David Ansell, chief health equity officer at Rush University Medical Center. “… But dig a little deeper and you see shocking inequities between the West … and the South sides and the Gold Coast in social, structural and power differentials.

“People’s housing is different. Their schools are different. They live in unsafe neighborhoods … . They have different access to food, different access to health care and different access to jobs. And these life conditions create the social inequities that drive poor health. And structural racism and economic deprivation are at the root of these gaps. Structural racism itself is a form of violence.”

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said those racial inequities have been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black and Latino Chicagoans.

The Healthy Chicago 2025 plan will address those differences and, in doing so, help close the life expectancy gap, Arwady said.

One example: They’ll take steps to increase healthy food access and food security among people who are Black, Latino or low-income, with the goal to provide access to nutritious food to all Chicagoans within one generation, Arwady said.

The city’s plan will also look at how to increase availability of affordable and supportive housing to Black, Latino and low-income Chicagoans so they can have healthy, affordable homes, Arwady said.

And officials hope to decrease how often people are exposed to violence and “increase perceptions of safety and police accountability,” according to the plan.

But in all ways, the city will look at how to improve conditions for people of different marginalized groups, including people of color and those who live in communities facing gentrification and pollution, Arwady said.

As part of that, the Healthy Chicago 2025 plan will focus on four themes, Arwady said:

  • Transform policies and processes to foster anti-racist, multicultural systems.
  • Strengthen community capacity and youth leadership.
  • Improve systems of care for populations most affected by inequities.
  • Further the health and vibrancy of neighborhoods.

Read the full report:

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