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King County Health Inequities Trends

Dr. David Fleming, the Director of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health came to my Housing, Human Services, Health, and Culture (HHSHC) Committee today to report on recent trends in the health of residents in King County, with a focus on health inequities.  There were several surprising findings.

  • In most countries there is a link between health and economic well-being, yet the U.S. is falling behind despite spending a lot more per capita on health than any other country.  Of 34 countries, the US ranks 27th on life expectancy (i.e., 8th from the bottom).
  • The good news is that if King County were a country, it would rank 7thout of 34 on  that same list.
  • The bad news for King County is that in 7 of 10 measures of economic and health risk (e.g. poverty, smoking, and obesity), King County ranks among the top 5 of 15 largest counties in the US in greatest disparities by race.
  •  Two reasons for this disparity in King County is that a. more affluent residents are increasing their physical separation from lower income residents and b. the communities in which one can afford to live have different features that contribute to health.  For instance, in South Seattle there are two fast food restaurants and two tobacco stores for every 1,000 residents, while in Woodinville there is one fast food restaurant and one tobacco store for every 2,000 residents.
  • Of the successes in improved health for King County residents resulting from public health programs, on average, people of color, lower income and lower educational attainment often don’t release equal health outcomes.

Economic development and policy changes are tools policymakers need to use to improve health.  But an important point that Dr. Fleming drove home is that while it’s true that we have an opportunity in King County to make a difference, in order to do so, we really need to do things differently.

Data are available on Public Health’s Community Health Indicators website (http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/data/chi2009.aspx).

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