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Chicago’s ‘Healthy Chicago 2025’ initiative aims to close 8.8-year life expectancy gap between Black, white Chicagoans

The report cited decades of segregation and systemic racism as the underlying cause and outlines goals to advance racial equity and close the life expectancy gap by 2025.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks at a City Hall news conference last year.
The launch of “Healthy Chicago 2025” on Thursday featured a panel discussion including Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, along with a recorded message from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and remarks from community members and public health workers.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

On Thursday, the Chicago Department of Public Health virtually launched a new community health improvement plan focused on racial and health equity to meet the city’s goal of reducing the Black-white life expectancy gap.

Healthy Chicago 2025” is a five-year community health improvement assessment and plan that proposes to close the 8.8-year gap between Black and white Chicagoans in one generation.

Between 2012 and 2017, life expectancy fell for everyone in the city except white residents, according to the report that cited decades of segregation and systemic racism as the underlying cause. Chronic disease is the largest contributor, according to the document, with the city’s endemic gun violence as the second leading reason for the disparity.

The life expectancy gap between Latino and white people is only .2 years, according to the report. The average life expectancy is 80.2 years for white residents, 80.0 years for Latinos and 71.4 years for Blacks.

“We all share the vision of a more healthy, just, and equitable Chicago, and that our Zip code should not determine our life expectancy,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a statement. “That is why I am so excited about the launch of Healthy Chicago 2025 and its framework to ensure that every resident has access to the resources they need to live the healthy life they deserve.”

The health assessment was led by the Chicago Department of Public Health, along with 40 Chicagoans representing Chicago’s public health system and community groups, and includes specific proposals to increase access to healthy foods, quality health care and housing, and create safe spaces for all Chicagoans.

The four major goals of the report are to transform policies and processes to foster anti-racist, multicultural systems; strengthen community capacity and youth leadership; improve systems of care for populations most affected by inequities; and further the health and vibrancy of neighborhoods.

The report’s release was postponed to include research on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affects Black, Latino and low-income communities.

The launch featured a panel discussion including Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, along with a recorded message from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and remarks from community members and public health workers.

Dr. David Ansell, chief equity officer at Rush University Medical Center and author of “The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills” opened the launch with a video presentation linking health outcomes with racism.

“Structural racism is violence,” he said in the video. “It’s critically important that we name the root cause of illness and death ... that we name structural racism and economic deprivation as the root cause of this life expectancy gap.”

As a result, the report names Black, Latino and low-income Chicagoans as the primary populations needing support. This includes communities disproportionately burdened by pollution and disinvested and gentrifying communities.

“We’re being even more explicit in the work and the planning than ever before,” said Arwady during the livestream. “We certainly recognize that racism is at the heart of many of these inequities that we are talking about. But we also think it’s important to frame this in a positive light by imagining ourselves in a city where all the people in our communities have power, are free from oppression and are strengthened by equitable access to resources, environments and opportunities to promote optimal health and wellbeing.”

The city’s plan also hopes to decrease how often people are exposed to violence and “increase perceptions of safety and police accountability.”

Arwady highlighted the importance of this plan as Chicago and the rest of the country begins to understand the importance of public health.

“The pandemic has shown everyone how important public health is and this moment is important for us to address the inequalities in these life outcomes,” she said. “This is all apart of building a unifying and long-lasting movement in Chicago. We need to use this moment to raise our public health voice.”