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St. Louis Researchers Connect African-American Health Problems To Poverty, Lack Of Education

National Cancer Institute | Wikimedia Commons

First Brief: For the Sake of All

A disproportionate number of African Americans in St. Louis live in poverty and lack a high school education. African-American St. Louisans also have a higher death rate than white St. Louisans. According to a multi-disciplinary study currently under way in St. Louis, there is a connection between the two trends.

Researchers from Washington University and Saint Louis University recently released the first of five planned briefs on their study on the heath and well-being of African Americans in St. Louis.The study brief estimates 280 African-American St. Louisans died due to poverty in 2011. Lack of a high school education is attributed to another 237 deaths.

"We know that these factors, like education and economic status, do have an impact on health outcomes. Sometimes a larger impact than even health insurance or medical care," said Jason Purnell, the author of the first brief released by the study. He is an assistant professor in the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.

A person's neighborhood can have a profound effect on his or her health by influencing choices like what to eat and whether to exercise, added Keon Gilbert, assistant professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University.

If the neighborhood is unsafe, people are less likely to go out for a run. Likewise, if there isn't a full grocery store nearby, people are more likely to eat unhealthy foods.

Despite being focused on African Americans, the study is entitled "For the Sake of All" because the researchers wanted to highlight the impact the health and well-being of African Americans has on all of St. Louis.

"When you invest in people's health it ends up saving money," said William Tate, chair of the Department of Education at Washington University. "If we think about it more broadly, than this is to the benefit of everybody because you have healthy productive citizens who are contributing to the tax base."

Tate is also the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences.

"Part of what we are trying to do is re-frame this debate," said Purnell. "So that people begin to see investment in resources, and not people as problems. Not reacting to people as caricatures."

He hopes the study will help influence policy.

St. Louis on the Air provides discussion about issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh.

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