Alexandria, VA

Alexandria’s efforts to build a healthier community has shone a light on inequity in the city.

From food insecurity to chronic illnesses, the Alexandria Health Department’s Community Health Assessment indicates that minority groups in the city are far more likely to be impacted by health issues than white residents.

“Chronic conditions disproportionately affect persons of color, especially black or African Americans,” the report said. “Studies support a link between experiences of racism and risk of chronic illness.”

The report notes that hypertension hospitalization rates are 12 times higher among black and African American residents than white residents. Similarly, Hispanic residents are four times more likely to be hospitalized due to long term complications from diabetes than white residents.

“Black or African American and white residents have similar rates of cancer diagnosis,” the report found, “but Black or African Americans are more likely to die from cancer compared with whites.”

The assessment also examines economic stability — measured by local poverty rates, income inequality and unemployment — as a piece of maintaining “optimal health.”

“For example, health insurance is crucial for access to many healthcare services, but health coverage can be expensive, especially for those without coverage through an employer,” the report said. “The constant stress of living in unstable conditions, struggling to pay bills, and long work hours can exacerbate existing mental illness and also affect child brain development.”

According to the report:

  • 30% of Hispanic children in Alexandria and 30% of black or African American children live below the federal poverty line, while only 3% of white children do.
  • The median household income in Alexandria is $93,400, but the median household income for black or African American residents is $55,200, compared to $118,000 for white residents.
  • Over half (58%) of Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) students are eligible for free and reduced meals.
  • One in 10 residents live in poverty, including one in five children.
  • More than one-third (35%) of Alexandrians reported worrying about paying rent or mortgage in the last year while the average wait for housing support for eligible families is four years and nine months.

Other findings from the study include an increase in vaping among students in Alexandria.

“Cigarette smoking among Alexandria middle and high school students is on the decline, but the use of e-cigarettes has increased by more than 50%,” the study noted.

Another finding: “Twenty-one percent of Alexandria adults report excessive drinking, and four in ten local driving deaths are related to alcohol use.”

A community meeting on Saturday (Oct. 5) sought public input on identifying priorities from the plan, with the eventual goal of drafting a Community Health Improvement Plan. Those interested in getting involved should email [email protected]v.

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