by Erin Barbaro, Assistant Director and Senior Geographic Information Systems Specialist at CARES
We recently looked at children in poverty data and discussed both the limitations and the benefits of various data measures as a way to understand the true economic circumstances of children in the U.S. Now we turn our attention to disparity, another measure that is often confusing but can tell us much about the true health of our own communities.
Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people” and a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage.”
At the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems (CARES), we manage the data and tools for Community Commons and look for ways to show and explain equity and disparity measures in a meaningful way.
One of the most powerful tools to look at potential disparities on the Commons is the Vulnerable Populations Footprint (VPF) tool. This tool looks at the intersection of high poverty and low educational attainment to identify areas of a community most vulnerable to poor health outcomes. This tool is so compelling it is featured at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health on their interactive wall. Learn more about how the VPF is determined or create your own VPF.
Once you’ve identified the most vulnerable areas of your community the next step to truly allow this tool to inform your work is to save it. Saving allows you to add the vulnerable area to any map without having to recreate it every time.
Why is Saving the footprint helpful? Let’s imagine two months from now you’re looking at a newly updated data layer you learn about from our newsletter and you make a map. You can add your saved VPF to that map for additional context and awareness about the most vulnerable in your community. Not ready to save? That’s ok. You can also opt to click the [Map with Other Data] button (see above) to view your area alongside all the other available data in the Commons.
Beyond the VPF tool, the mapping and reporting tools on the Commons feature a number of datasets worth exploring as you address issues of equity—including income, education, race, language, health, and rurality, among others. Click on any map below to see it in our interactive map room and zoom to your own community.
Many of the data in our Indicator Reports include age, race, gender and ethnic breakouts. When examining data, your community may fare well overall but it is incumbent upon you to take a closer look. Are all members of your community faring well? Or is there a disparity in terms of gender? What about age, race or ethnicity?
Unfortunately, the data we may want isn’t always available. One of the most frustrating aspects of our work is the lack of disaggregated, or subgroup, data in the public arena. This lack of truly specific data hobbles our ability to shed light on disparities. In some cases the data exists but isn’t released due to suppression in smaller populations. In your work, you can begin to explore what data is available on the Commons and then dig deeper locally to seek out whether those data are representative of all members of your community.
You can see every data indicator included in our Community Health Needs Assessment reports here. The last column shows if the data is broken down into subgroups or not.
Ready to start exploring disparity and equity in your community? Click here to get started.