RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Some public health issues — from depression to poverty — were on the rise among minorities and other subgroups of North Carolina’s population even before COVID-19 put the spotlight on the disparities between them, a study found.
The inaugural America’s Health Rankings Health Disparities Report, issued by a United HealthCare-backed research foundation, breaks down 30 measures to illustrate how wide some of the gaps between groups were before the pandemic brought further light to those disparities.
“It’s a range of things, looking at the social determinants of health,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, one of the organizations that worked on the report, said.
He continued, “Those are the things that can help you become more healthy, or can impede your health.”
While the numbers predate the pandemic, Benjamin said their value lies in being the yardstick for measuring recovery.
“I think in terms of the baseline all public health measures are what happens over time,” Benjamin said. “People should just be aware that if things got worse, the pandemic may have been a factor that influenced them.”
Among the detailed findings from the 126-page report include:
— Infant mortality among Black children dropped 21-percent from 2003-06 and 2015-18.
— Smoking in women dropped 16-percent from 2011-13 and 2017-19.
— The share of households experiencing poverty, despite being headed by a college graduate, increased 16-percent between 2005-09 and 2015-19.
“We live, we send our kids off to college, and … their kids come back. They just couldn’t quite make enough out there to sustain themselves,” Benjamin said. “I think that tells us a lot about the economics of our nation, particularly with this huge variance of income that we see.”
The report also finds income inequality has decreased in North Carolina and is better than it is nationally.
Additionally, Benjamin said it was important to note that the audience for the study is both the general public and policymakers who make decisions about health for those they represent.
“If you are … an average citizen, and you see something that concerns you, then you should talk about it with your elected officials,” he said.
He offers some solutions — including expanding Medicaid, a subject that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have disagreed on for years.
“There are things we can do around health insurance coverage, making sure that every citizen in our nation has access to quality, affordable health care through health insurance coverage,” Benjamin said. “And that means, frankly, in our country, expanding Medicaid to all those states that have not yet done so.”