Ohio’s health disparities weigh down progress, annual study shows
An annual dissection of various aspects of Ohioans’ health showed improvements in some areas related to access to care, but also saw demographic disparities continue to hold the state down.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio’s annual Health Value Dashboard compares the state to the rest of country in terms of general health outcomes, along with the social determinants like poverty and health care costs that can have a large impact on how healthy Ohioans are. It brings together data from federal and state agencies, along with academic studies and non-profit research.
Ohio has seen great improvement in areas such as adult access to care based on cost, breastfeeding and infant care supports in hospitals, local health department accreditation and outdoor air quality, the study stated.
However, after 10 years of compiling data for the dashboard, the HPIO said “it is clear that Ohioans continue to live less healthy lives and spend more on health care than people in most other states.”
The health dashboard showed the state’s ranking among the nation had “greatly worsened” in the areas such as mental health treatment for adults and the underserved, child preventative dental care.
Tobacco usage was also seen as “one of the key factors contributing to Ohio’s poor performance” when compared to rest of the country, as the pace of decline in usage isn’t matching up with other states.
Adverse childhood experiences contributed to 33% of smoking in the state, according to the study, and “trauma and toxic stress” bring higher smoking rates among adults with low incomes, have experiences childhood adversity or experience poor mental health.
“This means that doing more to prevent harms such as child maltreatment would lead to less smoking, saving an estimated $2.2 billion in tobacco-related health care costs each year,” researchers stated.
Among other issues the state has in staying healthy are a lack of resources when it comes to drug addiction, specifically opioid addiction, and barriers to employment as the state’s labor force participation dropped 9% between 2007 and 2022.
“Ohio has more barriers to employment and wage growth than most other states, such as lower rates of post-secondary education and higher rates of incarceration and child abuse and neglect,” the health dashboard found.
With less-than-needed resources for mental health, Ohio has seen an increased adult depression rate, and “significant disparities in depression rates persist for Ohioans with low incomes and those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” according to the study.
“Ohio’s behavioral health workforce is not large enough to meet rising demand,” researchers stated.
Those disparities persist in many other aspects of health, with racism and discrimination held up by the HPIO as a major factor in health problems overall. A lack of equity, the study found, only adds to the “harmful conditions and stressful experiences” that can bring on or exacerbate health problems, even early death.
“Therefore, improving the health, well-being and economic vitality of Ohio involves ending racism and discrimination and their harmful effects, so that all Ohioans, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, disability status, income, sexual orientation or gender identity, have the opportunity to reach their full health potential,” the study states.
The study acknowledged improvements that have been made when it comes to equity, with Black Ohioans seeing a 33% decrease in unemployment between 2012 and 2021 and a 16% decrease in child poverty for the group as well.
But disparities remain, and the HPIO’s “equity profile” concluded Black Ohioans are treated 10.3 times worse in health care due to race, have two times more of a “severe housing cost burden” compared to other groups and see nearly 3 times more infant mortality when compared with other Ohioans.
Improving health outcomes, especially for minority populations, is a hot topic within the Ohio legislature, with companion bills in the Ohio House and Senate looking to invest in health care hubs to increase access to health care in underserved areas, along with state support of doula services to boost infant and maternal health outcomes.
The fate of those bills is uncertain, despite their bipartisan sponsorship, based on the many similar bills that have entered the legislature, but never made it through both chambers.
Groups like the Ohio Commission on Minority Health are also trying to get help through the operating budget, which is currently under consideration with a June deadline.
This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.