“If we’re constantly slammed with these images, we will be looking over our shoulders rather than reaching out to each other.”
Englewood is often depicted as the epicenter of violence in Chicago. But for community members, their neighborhood is defined by so much more. Residents emphasize a strong network of local assets, including over 250 churches—many of which help to build community and address barriers to health and wellness.
That work isn’t easy. Health conditions in West Englewood—the western half of the Greater Englewood neighborhood area—illustrate the deep, far-reaching impacts of historic and ongoing systemic racism on African-American communities.
Sinai Community Health Survey 2.0, a community-driven survey conducted in West Englewood and eight other areas around the city, highlights the health inequities resulting from socioeconomic barriers to opportunity.
Survey creators at Sinai Urban Health Institute shared the results in a series of neighborhood forums, to spark discussion and build more understanding of the interrelated dynamics of health and community.
The key Survey findings from West Englewood:
Obesity and Diabetes
44% of adults in West Englewood are obese, compared to a national obesity rate of 29.5%. Of these, 13% consider themselves underweight or the right weight, while 65% tried to lose weight within the past year. 13% of adult residents have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to a national rate of 9%.
From the forums: Residents traced a connection between obesity, nutrition and poverty. With a median household income of $25,625—approximately half the citywide median income of $47,831—and 37% of adults unemployed, the neighborhood struggles to access fresh, healthy foods. “You need to make food stretch out when you have limited resources,” one participant said. Another explained, “The good stuff costs so much in the store. How can you afford it when you only have $10?”
Struggles against obesity are compounded by issues of safety—when residents are unable to feel safe moving around their neighborhood, walking or other forms of healthy exercise are out of reach. But neighborhood safety affects wellness in other ways, from mental health to life expectancy.
In West Englewood, 35% of adults reported feeling unsafe alone during the daytime. 46% of adults feel unsafe alone at night.
“The good stuff costs so much in the store. How can you afford it when you only have $10?”
From the forums: For participants in the forums, their relationship to neighborhood violence is complex: a reality of life, but also one that bears little resemblance to its popular portrayal. “The media has constant images of violence in our neighborhood, but we don’t see it,” said one resident. “If we’re constantly slammed with these images, we will be looking over our shoulders rather than reaching out to each other.”
“The media is an issue. They combine all South Side areas into one, and report that things happened in Englewood that didn’t happen here,” said another forum participant. “It feels like Englewood is a target to just report all the bad stuff.”
Heart Disease & High Blood Pressure
Among adults in West Englewood, 38% have been diagnosed with high blood pressure compared to 25% of U.S. residents. 17% have been diagnosed with heart disease.
From the forums: Residents were familiar with the prevalence of heart disease and high blood pressure; they believed that the statistics may even underrepresent the true prevalence. “Many may have heart disease, but have not been diagnosed,” one participant said. They pointed to a lack of services for chronic conditions and routine wellness care—as one resident explained, “There’s no services to help get to the doctor in the first place, and then no support services even if something is wrong.”
“During our West Englewood community forum, residents shared that the lack of accessible, wholesome and affordable food is a crucial barrier to improving health and preventing chronic disease,” reflected Jackie Jacobs, SUHI program manager. “It isn’t surprising, then, that we see the prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease above national numbers.”
“However, there are opportunities here. Residents are motivated to identify the assets in their community and make changes,” Jacobs said.
Established in 2002, The Sinai Community Health Survey is the largest community-driven health survey ever conducted in Chicago. Its creators at Sinai Urban Health Institute had three goals:
Document the health status of selected community areas in Chicago
Understand the social factors associated with health-related behaviors, service utilization and outcomes
Use findings to develop public health interventions and policies to address health inequities
Sinai Survey 2.0 was launched in October 2013 with funding from The Chicago Community Trust, and includes approximately 500 questions on child and adult health. Data collection began in spring 2015, asking survey questions face-to-face to a randomly selected representative sample of residents from nine Chicago community areas, and concluded in fall 2016.
“One of the most powerful takeaways from the Sinai Survey findings is understanding how much our health and wellbeing is shaped by the community around us,” said Kristin Monnard, program manager for Sinai Urban Health Institute.
“Sinai Survey findings reflect the importance of looking at—and addressing—health at the local level. However, the local findings that we see from the Survey communities are reflections of broader policies and structural factors,” Monnard said. “While we need more resources at the local level, we also need structural change at the city, state and national level.”