On June 7, 2016, the Northern Virginia Health Foundation (NVHF) convened more than 150 policymakers and community members at its community health summit. A new report “Why Life Expectancy Varies in Northern Virginia,” served as the basis for a productive conversation about how to address the region’s stark health inequities.
As reported in articles by The Washington Post, DCist, and other local media, the report showed that babies born just a 30-minute drive away from each other in Northern Virginia can experience life expectancies that vary by as much as 13 years. Supported by NVHF and produced by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center for Society and Health, the report is the first to investigate differences in life expectancy, income, race, and education in Northern Virginia neighborhoods. It is accompanied by an interactive mapping tool that allows users to compare neighborhoods by “zooming in” on census tracts and examining their life expectancy, education, income levels, and racial-ethnic composition.
“This data is a call to action for the region,” NVHF President and CEO Patricia Mathews said in her remarks to the audience. “Our demographics are changing and these inequities are growing. The good news is that if we take strategic action, we can improve people’s lives. These steps could also significantly help reduce health care costs, increase education levels, and enhance the economic vitality of the region.”
Along with Mathews’ address to summit attendees, health experts such as State Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine, and VCU’s Dr. Steven Woolf stressed the importance of addressing social determinants of health – problems like inadequate housing, limited access to healthy foods, and other factors that influence our health beyond access to health care. Speakers also included Anita Friedman, Arlington County Director of Human Services; Barbara Nowak, Health Services Coordinator for Alexandria City Public Schools; and Robert Stalzer, Deputy County Manager for Fairfax County.
During a mid-morning breakout session, attendees brainstormed ways to use the report findings to improve health. They noted that the strong link between health and other social factors provides opportunities to collaborate with partners in health and non-health sectors such as, government, education, transportation and housing.
The summit also celebrated the Foundation’s 10-year anniversary. The Foundation issued a special 10th anniversary annual report to mark the occasion.
Watch full coverage of the 10th Anniversary Northern Virginia Health Summit, Upstream Matters: What’s Really Affecting Our Health?