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Income Tied to Health Disparities in Chicago Parents

September 30, 2020

In Chicago, only 36 percent of parents with low household income reported being in better health, compared to 57 percent of parents with low to middle income and 75 percent of parents with high income, according to a survey released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). Respondents (ages 18-44 years) were grouped as having “better” health status if they reported excellent or very good health, and “worse” health status if they said they were in good, fair, or poor health.

“We know from previous research that when parents are healthier and have healthy habits, their children tend to be healthier and grow up with healthy habits as well,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Chair of the Department of Medicine at Lurie Children’s, President and Chief Research Officer of the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, Executive Vice-President and Chief Community Health Transformation Officer at Lurie Children’s and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “The health disparities associated with income may reflect related social factors such as limited access to healthy foods, safe housing, and health insurance, which are likely compounded by the stress of financial insecurity.”

The survey results also show that health disparities are associated with race and ethnicity. White parents were more likely to report being in better health (64 percent) than Black parents (50 percent) and Latinx parents (46 percent).

However, White parents were the least likely to have had a routine physical exam (60 percent), compared with Black parents (87 percent) and Latinx parents (72 percent). Similarly, high income parents were less likely to have had a routine physical exam (69 percent) than parents who were low to middle income (76 percent) and those who were low income (83 percent).

Healthy habits, such as exercise and eating fruits and vegetables, also differed by income. Parents with higher household income were more likely to have exercised in the past month (85 percent) than parents with low to middle income (60 percent) and those with low income (67 percent). Likewise, parents were more likely to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables if they were higher income (43 percent) than if they were low to middle income (22 percent) or low income (17 percent).

“It is important to note that these data were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Davis. “During the pandemic, parents, children, and families are experiencing unique and unprecedented challenges, and parent health and health behaviors may be significantly impacted by these challenges. In future reports, we will use data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic to highlight its impact on family health and well-being.”

Survey answers are from the second wave of data collection through the Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. (2018-19) that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 2,982 adults, including 740 parents, from December 2018 through May 2019. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas. The survey cooperation rate was 12 percent.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health in Chicago.

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.