Race plays as big of a role in a person’s health as where they live, a recent analysis of the health of Marylanders found.
The annual county-by-county look at people’s health by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute examined race as an indicator of health for the first time.
“In Maryland, there are differences by race/ethnicity in length and quality of life that are masked when we only look at differences by place,” the report said.
The report found that Montgomery County residents were the state’s healthiest, while those who live in Baltimore were the least healthy.
People of color and children who lived in poverty had disproportionately higher rates of health issues statewide. In Maryland 13 percent of children live in poverty compared to the U.S. rate of 20 percent.
Improving socioeconomic factors such as job security, housing and quality of education could help improve the health of Maryland communities, the researchers said.
“We know societal factors are strong driver of length and quality of life.” said Marjory Givens, the deputy director of data and science for the county health rankings program with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. ”Children don’t earn money. It is really about the families that care for those children. It is creating opportunities that pay a living wage and investing in quality schools, so people can get a foothold on the economic ladder.”
Givens hopes state officials use the data to help improve the health of their communities.
“It is an annual checkup like you get from the doctor’s office,” Givens said. “It is intended to provide information so that communities can dig in on areas where they can improve.”
The report found Maryland’s five healthiest counties were Montgomery, Howard, Carroll, Calvert and Frederick. The five unhealthiest were Baltimore City, Somerset, Caroline, Dorchester and Allegany.
The uninsured rate is 7 percent in Maryland, but among racial and ethnic groups in the state, the rate could be as high as 22 percent, the report found.
The teen birth rate is 21 births per 1,000 women in Maryland, but for some racial and ethnic groups it ranged as high as 43 per 1,000 women. Teen mothers were more likely to live in areas with fewer education and job opportunities, the report said. Their children often have fewer social and economic supports and worse health outcomes.
The report outlined potential solutions for resolving poverty, including investing in education to boost career opportunities and creating social connections to empower youth, such as mentorships and safe places for youth to convene. Increasing wages and offering living wages and paid leave could improve the financial state of low-income families.
On the health front, the report recommended making sure that everyone has adequate, affordable health care and receives culturally sensitive care.
The report said many of the issues facing families are “the result of policies and practices at many levels that have created deep-rooted barriers to good health.”