Study: Segregation Is Bad for Your Health

That's particularly bad news in Philly.

Economic Segregation

Different worlds.

Segregation makes you sick.

That’s one of the conclusions of the 2016 County Health Rankings released earlier this month, and it’s a bit of news that doesn’t bode well for Philadelphia.

Why? Because the study’s own rankings suggest Philadelphia is very segregated — the county scores a 71 on the study’s 0-100 segregation score, with 100 being “most segregated — and that’s just the latest in a long series of reports suggesting that blacks and whites in the area live separate lives. (The study doesn’t directly compare big cities, but Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, scored 65 on the index, while Chicago’s Cook County scores 79. New York scores a 68, while Washington D.C. also scores a 71. Boston’s Suffolk County scored a 70.)

The result is likely taking a toll on our collective health, according to the study. “Residential segregation of blacks and whites is a fundamental cause of health disparities in the U.S.,” the authors write. Segregation was added as a measure to the rankings this year because of those health implications.

“At the root of a lot of this is stress that comes from living conditions in a community that isn’t safe and housing isn’t adequate,” Bridget Catlin, co-director of the County Health Rankings, told The Atlantic.

The study, in fact, offered an array of bad news for Philadelphia. Of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, Philadelphia ranked:

  • 66th for length of life.
  • 67th for quality-of-life measures that include poor mental health days, poor physical health days, and low birthweight.
  • 67th for healthy behaviors like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive drinking.
  • 64th for the availability of clinical care.
  • 67th for social and economic factors.

As Be Well Philly observed: “While this is upsetting, it’s nothing new: Philadelphia has consistently scored at the bottom of the list since County Health Rankings started ranking the country’s counties in 2010.”

In that sense, then, the segregation news is one more straw for the camel’s back. It might, however, be a factor that undermines efforts to fix all the other problems. Segregation, one expert noted last year, “can erode a sense of common destiny, and it can erode a sense of empathy for others.” And that, of course, can impact the policies that affect our collective health.

“Segregation continues to have lasting implications for both personal and community well-being,” the new study’s authors write. Segregation “has been linked to poor health outcomes, including infant and adult mortality, and a wide variety of reproductive, infectious and chronic diseases.”

Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.