In Virginia, health outcomes follows geographic and racial lines

Virginia Mercury

From The Bulletin, the Mercury’s blog, where we post quick hits on the news of the day, odds and ends and commentary.

More than 20 percent of Virginia’s black, American Indian and Hispanic populations report poor or fair health, compared to 14 percent of the state’s white residents.

Annual data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings reveal wide discrepancies in health outcomes among Virginia residents, based largely on geography, income and race.

The group develops its rankings through a broad variety of data sources, ranging from the National Center for Health Statistics to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Year over year, the rankings essentially tell the same story: Virginia’s healthy counties, many of which are nestled in the northern part of the state, remain healthy, while its unhealthy localities, clumped together in the south and southwest, continue to struggle with poor outcomes.

Loudoun, Arlington and Fairfax counties fill Virginia’s top three spots, respectively, in the newly-released 2019 rankings.

Meanwhile, Petersburg, Covington and Galax cities rank in the bottom three localities — all three of which were similarly ranked in the bottom five last year, as well. Petersburg has come in either last or second-to-last in the state over the past four years.

“There are significant differences in health outcomes according to where we live, how much money we make, or how we are treated,” the report states.

“There are fewer opportunities and resources for better health among groups that have been historically marginalized, including people of color, people living in poverty, people with physical or mental disabilities, LGBTQ persons and women.”

The organization found that black Virginians have the highest rate of premature deaths, with 8,900 years lost per 100,000 population, compared to 6,300 years lost for whites and 2,600 for Asian residents.

White Virginians reported more poor mental health days: 3.8 on average in the past 30 days, compared to 3.5 among the state’s black residents and 2.7 among Hispanic.

Black infants had the highest rate of births with a low birthweight than any other race, with 13 percent compared to seven percent for white and Hispanic residents, and eight percent for American Indian and Asian residents. That trend matches national data on disproportionate pregnancy risks for African-American women.

This year, the rankings drew attention specifically to the relationship between housing, poverty and health. Twenty percent of households headed by black residents were burdened by severe housing costs, compared to 10 percent of households headed by white residents.