Published in the Spring 2011 issue of SSA Magazine

To impact the social influence on health, practitioners need a wide view

To Eric E. Whitaker, a plan to build a chain of grocery stores on the South Side is clearly a health initiative. Whitaker, the executive vice president for strategic affiliations and associate dean for community-based research at the University of Chicago Medical Center, points out that the stores will not only provide fresh produce in many communities that are now food deserts, they'll also be a form of local economic development, providing both a paycheck and health insurance to about 100 local residents at each site.

"Access to health care has been found to make up only 10 or 20 percent of the health status of a community or an individual. In health, where people live matters, especially in a segregated city like Chicago," Whitaker said at a talk at SSA in December in the Poverty, Promise and Possibility series, a University of Chicago initiative featuring discussions on practical solutions to poverty from University professors and researchers and local community members.

Research has shown that factors ranging from educational attainment to access to public transportation have an impact on health. Whitaker explained that to tackle the South Side's disproportionately high levels of infant mortality and chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, the University of Chicago's South Side Health Care Collaborative has "a 360 degree approach."

The collaborative has built a network of more than 30 community- based health centers and five local hospitals, but it also has started discussions in the neighborhoods on topics identified by community groups, such as a play at Perspectives High School in Auburn Gresham about stigma in mental health treatment. Innovative ideas, like a barbershop in a community health clinic in Woodlawn to help bring in African-American men, are welcome.

"I firmly believe that the solutions for improving health status on the South Side of Chicago will be about partnerships in the community," Whitaker said. "It will be about how do we change the social norms around obesity in the community, how do we get economic development to help the community thrive."
— Carl Vogel 

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