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What Does it Take for All Atlantans to be Healthy?

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Kathryn Lawler, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement

Kathryn Lawler, Executive Director, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement

By Kathryn Lawler, executive director, Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement (ARCHI)

Eating right, exercising, maintaining social connections, avoiding smoking and illegal substances and practicing safer sex. We have all heard this advice before. But for many Atlantans this advice rings hollow.

Many in our community don’t have the option to choose healthy food. There is no close, safe place to exercise or because they work several jobs they don’t have the time to do either. For others, even with strict adherence to this advice, there is no guarantee of good health.

Emerging research has linked experiences with trauma, persistent poverty, racism, abuse and neglect in the early years of life to acute and chronic health conditions later in life. This can mean that that no matter their personal choices and adoption of a healthy lifestyle, individuals who experience trauma, racism, other forms of discrimination and/or chronic stress at a young age are at greater risk for higher rates of depression and other behavioral health concerns, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.

The Atlanta region is home to extraordinary, high-quality health care and many poor health outcomes. Infant mortality rates in some zip codes match those in developing counties. People living only a couple miles apart have a 10-to 12-year difference in life expectancy. Atlanta is experiencing some of the nation’s highest growth rates in HIV infections.

Fulton and DeKalb counties have higher rates of hypertension and certain types of cancer than the rest of Georgia. African-Americans living in those counties have higher rates of these and obstructive heart disease, diabetes, asthma and teen pregnancy. When compared against all other counties in the United States, Fulton and DeKalb counties do not rank among the 500 healthiest counties. In the metro area, only Cobb and Paulding counties, numbers 345 and 424, respectively, make the list.  

To make improvements in these and many other regional health outcomes residents need access to the high-quality health care available here and the insurance to pay for it. Care must also incorporate treatment for the underlying factors affecting health—trauma, stress and discrimination—if we are going to move the needle.

ARCHI, the Carter Center and the Jessie Parker Williams Foundation will host a day-long workshop on the Physiology of Health Equity. Reflecting their shared commitment to a long-term, holistic approach to health improvement in Atlanta, these organizations will gather more than 200 professionals and community members on Sept. 26.

Led by Drs. Shanta Dube and Camara Jones, participants will examine the emerging science on the lasting impacts of adverse experiences, stress, trauma and structural racism on health. Organizations addressing these issues will share the progress and the challenges of their work with Atlantans.

Poor health is expensive for individuals, communities and our economy. Poor health outcomes are holding our region back. Left unaddressed, health inequities will prevent us from moving forward. Join the dialogue and see where your work can fit in.

Kathryn Lawler is ARCHI‘s executive director. She helped ARCHI develop its 28-year strategy, which focuses on both immediate health conditions and the larger, upstream issues that can result in poor health. The Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University was a founding member of ARCHI.

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