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The Past Decade Shows Progress In The Battle Against Chronic Diseases, St. Louis Researchers Say


Fifth Brief: For the Sake of All

For the Sake of All, the interdisciplinary research team studying the overarching effects of African American health on the St. Louis region, published its fifth and final research brief in December, this time focusing on chronic disease. Previous briefs covered segregation, mental health, dropout rates, and economy and education.

Researchers compared St. Louis City and St. Louis County data for three chronic diseases: diabetes, cancer and heart disease with goals set by the federal government called Healthy People.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to look at…what has our progress been over the past ten years, or twenty years. And what strides have we made so that we can focus on what’s been working, and see if we can continue that,” Washington University School of Medicine professor Bettina Drake said. She is assistant professor of surgery in public health sciences and co-authored the brief with Saint Louis University professor Keith Elder.

“We found that heart disease is trending in the right direction. We met the goal – St. Louis County, City and state met the goal for heart disease reduction…and the others are trending in the right direction,” Elder said. He chairs the Department of Health Management & Policy for the College for Public Health & Social Justice.

Of the three diseases tracked in the policy brief, the data for diabetes death rates showed the least improvement and the greatest disparity between African Americans and Whites. In St. Louis County, for example, the diabetes death rate of African Americans decreased 3 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared to a 36 percent decrease among Whites. And both groups fell short of the Healthy People 2010 goal of 43 percent.

Still, Drake and Elder are for the most part optimistic about the progress being made. The greatest need now, they said, was more emphasis on prevention so that fewer people become sick in the first place. And key to prevention is healthy living.

That’s where economic limitations and neighborhood conditions can become barriers to further progress, lead researcher Jason Purnell said. He is an assistant professor in the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.

“A third of African Americans in the city of St. Louis find it difficult to buy healthy foods in the city of St. Louis. That’s troubling,” Purnell said, citing survey data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. “Only 40 percent in the city consider their neighborhoods to be safe. If you can’t walk your neighborhood and you can’t find fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s very hard to engage in physical activity and eat a healthy diet.”

A final report compiling the information from all five policy briefs will be released by the For the Sake of All research team in May. In the meantime, researchers are scheduling briefings with local policymakers, including Mayor Francis Slay.  A community feedback forum will take place on March 3.

Related Event

For the Sake of All Community Feedback Forum
Monday, March 3, 2014
2:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Forest Park Visitor and Education Center
For the Sake of All Website

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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