Advancing Black Health and Wellness – East Baton Rouge Parish Data Journey

February 22, 2022 Jane Chai

February is Black History Month and this year’s theme is Black Health and Wellness, a time to celebrate and amplify Black scholars and practitioners’ contributions to healthcare. In addition, this year’s Black Health and Wellness theme seeks to highlight activities, initiatives and rituals that Black communities have done well. As we celebrate, we are reminded that there is more work to be done to improve the health and wellbeing of Black communities that still experience disparities as a result of systemic inequities.

Conduent Healthy Communities Institute (HCI) supports communities in identifying and addressing the social determinants of health and root causes impacting health. We are proud of the contributions our teams make and our solution enables every day to provide insights that help communities across the United States understand health disparities and advance health equity at the local level. Following is a real-life example of one community where our HCI platform is helping to advance Black health and wellness through the strategic use of data.

 

Black and White - disparities in life expectancy

When assessing a community’s health, we often consider data that can provide specific insights such as prevalence of health behaviors, disease prevalence, and hospitalization rates. One data point we can look to as a summary measure of a population’s overall health is life expectancy at birth. While the life expectancy gap between White and Black Americans has narrowed over the years, looking at the life expectancy of the U.S. underlines the inequities Black communities experience. The latest National Vital Statistics show there is a 4.1-year gap in life expectancy between White and Black populations [1]. The numbers are even more stark when accounting for gender, where a Black male in the U.S. can expect to live five years less than a White male [1]. Though final data for 2020 and 2021 is still being analyzed, it is expected that the COVID-19 pandemic has widened these gaps [2].

U.S. Life Expectancy at Birth

Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, and Arias E. Deaths: Final data for 2019. National Vital Statistics Reports. National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI.

Local data, deeper insights - the East Baton Rouge Parish experience

While life expectancy data for the U.S. helps us see gaps at the national level, localized data is often more meaningful in illuminating disparities, and especially effective in determining points for action.  This can be seen in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, the most populous parish in the state. BR City Key is a local community data and analytics platform sponsored by the East Baton Rouge Parish Library to provide tools to understand the community, social and health indicators affecting quality of life in East Baton Rouge Parish. Black or African American residents make up 47% of the parish population of about 450,000 [3]. The library has dug into local indicators to better understand experiences of residents of the area. Looking at data for East Baton Rouge Parish by race/ethnicity, they saw key indicators of disparities impacting Black communities including a life expectancy gap of more than five years between the White and Black populations.

Using data on their platform, BR City Key noted critical disparities experienced by the Black population in the East Baton Rouge Parish:

  • Life expectancy at birth for the Black population is 73.1 years compared to 78.3 years among the White population [4]
  • Median household income for Black households was $38,869, almost half of the median household income of White households at $76,310 [5]
  • More than one-third (38.4%) of Black children lived under the federal poverty level, which was a rate seven times higher than that for White children [6]
  • Only 64.8% of the Black population voted in the 2020 presidential election, compared to 75.9% of the White population [7]

 

While life expectancy is an important indicator of outcomes, these other data points showing disparities in income, voter turnout, and child poverty help us better understand some of the root causes driving inequities.

 

Calling on community

Equipped with this data, BR City Key created a Black Lives Matter Resources page with their call to action — “better understand, directly challenge and fundamentally transform inequitable institutions, policies and culture.” The mayor of East Baton Rouge also established a Commission on Racial Equity and Inclusion to focus on four areas:

  • Community and Economic Development
  • Education, Health and Human Services
  • Arts, Culture & Community Based Nonprofits
  • Government Entities

“Now is a time for reflection and action.” As we celebrate Black History Month, communities can take BR City’s words, and a page from its playbook, to use local data to spark collaboration to understand and address systemic inequities. BR City Key’s experience illustrates the importance of looking at both health outcomes and the inequitable social and economic conditions that can drive health disparities.


About Healthy Communities Institute
Conduent Healthy Communities Institute provides an end-to-end solution for community health that links health and social determinants of health with technology and expertise. The HCI platform, which powers BR City Key and other local platforms like it, brings stakeholders together with a centralized dashboard of more than 150 health, social, and economic indicators, high value analytics, tools for storytelling, and evidence-based practices at the user’s fingertips.  HCI’s Consulting Services team provides expert guidance for assessing community needs, developing strategies, and implementing evaluation and monitoring processes. Contact Conduent Healthy Communities Institute at communityhealth@conduent.com.

Sources:
[1] Xu JQ, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, and Arias E. Deaths: Final data for 2019. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 70 no 08. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, 2021
[2] MedRXIV. Reductions in US Life Expectancy from COVID-19 by Race and Ethnicity, 2021
[3] Population demographics, Claritas, 2021
[4] Life Expectancy at Birth, County Health Rankings, 2017-2019
[5] Median Household Income, American Community Survey, 2015-2019
[6] Children Living Below Poverty Level, American Community Survey, 2015-2019
[7] Voter Turnout: Presidential Election, Louisiana Secretary of State, 2020

About the Author

Jane Chai

Jane Chai, MPH is a community health expert with Conduent Healthy Communities Institute. She has been a leader in the field of public health and community health planning for more than 20 years at various organizations in Southern California.

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