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Inaccurate Data Leads Louisville to Revise Neighborhood Health Equity Breakdown

Metro Louisville has revised its 2014 Health Equity Report  to correct information that falsely declared some neighborhoods as having worse health outcomes than they actually did.The Health Equity Report was initially released in April, but—as The Courier-Journal reported—data misalignments lead to inaccurate findings in categories such as life expectancy and death rates.The misalignments came from merging two different data sets, said Anneta Arno, the director of the Center for Health Equity, an organization within the Department of Health and Wellness.Data used for the Health Equity Report came from Louisville/Jefferson County death records from 2006-2010, the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey data from 2007-2011.The Health Equity Report originally stated that the Downtown-Old Louisville-University neighborhood had the lowest life expectancy rate in the city.  When health officials reexamined the data, they found that six other neighborhoods had a lower life expectancy.  The revised report said the Louisville area with the lowest life expectancy is California-Parkland (67.8 years).

The original report also said the city’s highest homicide death rate to be in the Butchertown-Clifton-Crescent Hill neighborhood. But upon reexamining data, officials found that was not the case.Of 24 city neighborhoods, the Butchertown-Clifton-Crescent Hill area had the 18th lowest homicide death rate—three deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the revised report.  The highest homicide death rate,  at 68 deaths per 100,000 residents, was found in the California-Parkland area.

Arno said the foundation of the report, despite the issues withe the original version, remains the same— health inequities exist in Louisville and they are related to economic disparities.Nearly 40 percent of health outcomes come from “social determinants of health,” said Arno.Areas with more residents living in poverty die from homicide, disease and substance abuse at a higher rate than those living in neighborhoods with stronger economic positioning, she said.In Louisville, 14 of 24 specific neighborhoods have a poverty rate higher than the national average of 12.5 percent, according to the revised report.  The Russell neighborhood in west Louisville had the city’s highest poverty rate (52.7 percent).  It also had the city’s highest HIV/AIDS death rate (30 deaths per 100,000 residents), the second highest homicide death rate (49 deaths per 100,000 residents) and the second highest cancer death rate (275 deaths per 100,000 residents).Meanwhile, he Floyds Fork area in southeast Jefferson County had the lowest the poverty rate in the county at 4 percent, according to the revised report.  The HIV/AIDS death rate in Floyds Fork is 15 times lower than the Russell neighborhood— two deaths per 100,000 residents and the homicide rate is nearly 25 times lower at two deaths per 100,000 residents.

Arno said shrinking the gaps of health disparities throughout the county can only come if people “change the norms” and support policies that promote healthy communities and look to put an end to economic inequality.Policies that eliminate food deserts, increase employment opportunities and boost residents' access to reliable transportation should be at the forefront of city leader’s agendas, Arno said.“Almost everything that we do in this community has an impact on health,” she said.  “All policy is health policy.”But it goes beyond policy.Kentucky is quickly becoming a state of health-insured residents—but healthcare alone can’t force people to be active or stop smoking, Arno said.“That’s the kind of thing that people can do for themselves, but when you see a policy coming up you should consider what your role is in making it happen or ensuring that it does happen,” she said.“Health is for all of us to worry about,” she said.  “For everybody.”To see the entire updated report, click here.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.