2011 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card Highlights, and a Call to Action
Today marked the release of the 2011 Tennessee Women’s Health Report Card, a publication which provides a snapshot of the health status of women in our state, and the disparities they experience. It’s a handy resource for anyone interested in making a case – or understanding the need – for improved health services and community programs, and includes statistics that clearly illustrate some of the challenges we face.
- 18.4% of us – or almost 1 in 5 – smoked while we were pregnant. The rate is highest (21.4%) among white women, and lower among African American (10.3%) and Hispanic (2.4%) women.
- African American women experience tremendous disparities in their infant mortality rate, with 16 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 6 for white women and 6.6 for Hispanic women.
- About a third of us have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are obese, and do not “engage in leisure time activity,” or exercise.
- 16.9% of us live below the poverty line, with disparities here as well – 13.9% of white women, 28.2% of African American women, and 42.1% of Hispanic women meet this depressing criteria.
I would encourage to take a look at the full report [PDF], especially if you are interested in working to improve the health of women and Tennesseans. Just browsing the statistics on reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, causes of death, risky behaviors, preventive health practices (like cancer screening), and barriers to health care is sure to give you ideas for possible actions to take in your family, neighborhood, county, and state.
This year, I had the privilege of attending the release event for the report at the downtown branch of the Nashville Public Library, and so got to hear some really smart and engaged folks speak about the report and its implications for our communities. Action, or what we do in response to this report, was a major theme.
First up, Dr. Katherine Hartmann of Vanderbilt made a clear call to action, stating that this must be the year we look at this report and say, this is not just public health data, it’s us and our families, and represents many challenges that we must address.
Next, Dr. Jeffrey Balser of Vanderbilt, noted the responsibility of large employers in contributing to the health of their employees and, by extension, the community. He challenged people in places of authority to do active and visible things to improve the health of those around them.
Third up, Dr. Charles Mouton of Meharry Medical College observed that some of his peers have grown weary of hearing about health diaparities and how we have failed to fully addreas them. He then challenged us all to work to eliminate them, calling it our duty to the women this report card represents to eliminate those disparities. He asked the audience to look at the report card as a roadmap for where we have not done well, and where we can and should work to improve health care and access to care for all Tennesseans.
Next, Dr. Stephaine Hale Walker of Vanderbilt began with a review of the good and bad grades on the report card, noting the good news that deaths from diabetes continue to decline, more than 80% of women over 50 had a mammogram in the last two years, and deaths from colorectal cancer are at a low. She also noted that stroke and heart disease rates are very slowly showing trends toward improvement.
The bad news, as we’ve touched on, is that disparities continue for many health issues, such as our African American women being at a much higher risk of having a very low birthweight infant, having an infant die before its first birthday, dying from cervical or breast cancer, or having a sexually transmitted infection. Likewise, social barriers such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of healthcare coverage continue to challenge us.
From there, Dr. Hale Walker moved to an inspiring discussion of the need to ask ourselves “now what?” We can’t just talk about these problems, she said, we need to ask what we can do to be part of the solution, form collaborations, and act to make change.
As an example of her own committment to acting for change, Dr. Hale Walker spoke about the Full Circle organization which works to connect people with the great organizations in Nashville offering free and sliding scale healthcare resources. She also is married to Bishop Joseph Walker of prominent Mount Zion Baptist Church, where the church has implemented the ChurchFit program to provide access to fitness classes to the member community, and health education programs on a variety of topics, partially inspired by the statistics in the 2009 edition of the report card. I had the opportunity to speak to one of Mount Zion’s congregants at the reception after the report release, and found her attitude, story, and words inspiring and motivating as well. Stories shared by other women in conjunction with the report are available on this page.
Finally, Commisioner Susan Cooper of the Tennessee Department of Health spoke, calling for us to be smarter about how we spend our resources, and to focus them in areas of highest risk. She reminded us that significant improvements are not going to happen overnight or on their own, and require time and dedicated action. She highlighted state programs acting to make a difference, like the tobacco Quit Line, and Get Fit Tennessee, the website of which includes a free healthy cookbook I need to check out.
Cooper asked us to think about small personal changes we can make, but to also think about policy. Her vision of policy extends beyond whatever the legislature is or isn’t doing – we are asked to think about how university, urban design, and other policies affect the health of our community, and to ask for these policies to be formed in ways that promote our health.
All of this is a very long-winded way of saying – I left today’s report card launch inspired, and hope seeing the disparities and room for major improvement of the full report inspires you, too.
*Disclosure: Vanderbilt is my larger place of work, and people I’ve worked with worked on this report.