A survey by a Yale School of Public Health research group finds encouraging signs that New Haven residents are adopting healthier lifestyles.
CARE: Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, conducted a door-to-door survey late last year in six of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Participants responded to questions about their current health status, health-related habits and barriers to better health. It was CARE’s third survey of the same neighborhoods since 2009. Data from the latest survey of 1,189 participants was released this month.
“We saw improvements in some key risk areas,” said Ms. Alycia Santilli, CARE deputy director. Food insecurity dropped, from 41 percent three years ago to 34 percent today. “This may be a sign that the economy getting better for low-income residents,” said Santilli, who is also chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council.
The survey also identified an increase in the number of people who feel safe in their neighborhoods. In 2012, 33 percent of residents said they felt unsafe walking in their neighborhood during the day and 67 percent felt unsafe at night. Those numbers dropped to 14 percent and 51 percent, respectively. “That may be due, in part, to increased community policing,” Santilli said.
Another encouraging finding is that 95 percent of respondents now have health insurance, up from 88 percent in 2012.
Although 65 percent of residents in the surveyed neighborhoods meet the recommended amount of exercise (more than 150 minutes weekly)—an increase from 59 percent from 2009 and 2012—areas that still need overall improvement include active living and better nutrition.
“We need to build communities that make it easier for residents to engage in healthy behavior while also putting more emphasis on exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables,” said Ms. Santilli. Some progress has already been made in these areas. For example, CARE, in collaboration with community residents, has established community gardens. Additionally, City Seed brings mobile produce markets directly into low-income neighborhoods. Community groups also designed walking and biking trails, designated with CARE-supported signage and supported by the City of New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.
Smoking, however, remains largely unchanged, holding steady at 29 percent, according to the latest survey. An encouraging development is that 44 percent of smokers said they tried to quit in the past year. “People want to quit, but they need better tools and incentives,” Ms. Santilli said. Last year, the city passed a smoking ban in city-owned or operated parks, beaches, school grounds and city buildings. Using CARE data to guide policies and practices together with targeted resources from the New Haven Health Department, Santilli hopes a drop in smoking rates will be achieved.
CARE seeks to reverse disproportionately high rates of chronic diseases in the city’s underserved neighborhoods through changes to the structural environment and with programs and policies that encourage exercise, healthier eating and reduced rates of obesity and smoking. Forty-five percent of survey respondents reported that there were changes in their neighborhood in the past three years that are health enhancing.
“We are pleased to document progress in behavioral, social and environmental factors that influence health. At the same time, we recognize the challenges,” said Jeannette Ickovics, professor at the School of Public Health and CARE’s director. “Obesity rates have declined over the past three years among African Americans and Latinos, however, diabetes remain unchanged and asthma continues to increase—both higher among people of color and those with lower income.”
Survey respondents from the city’s Dixwell, West River/Dwight, Fair Haven, Hill North, Newhallville and West Rock neighborhoods, matched the demographic profile in the neighborhoods. Nearly two thirds were women, with an average age of 42. A total of 63 percent of the respondents were black; 22 percent Latino/Hispanic; and 13 percent white. A third of households have incomes of less than $15,000 a year.
For more information on the 2015 New Haven Health Survey, go to http://care.yale.edu/resources/2015_CARE_Survey_Results_246216_284_11205.pdf