In a report released Thursday, Chicago health officials starkly stated the cause of a growing life expectancy gap between Black and white residents: decades of segregation and systemic racism.
The report, titled Healthy Chicago 2025, detailed how Black residents die, on average, nearly nine years earlier than white residents. 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 report follows two previous Healthy Chicago analyses of health outcomes for Chicagoans. Previous reports noted the racial disparity and the life expectancy gap, but the plan released Thursday by the city made pointed observations about the role racism has played in the outcomes.
“The five-year plan seeks to address social conditions that have been created by decades of segregation and systemic racism, the effects of which are laid bare by COVID-19,” according to a statement from the Chicago Department of Public Health. “It includes specific proposals to increase access to healthy foods, quality healthcare and housing, and create safe spaces for all Chicagoans to live, work and play.”
The report also seeks to close the gap in one generation.
“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 E. Lightfoot, in the 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.”
More details on the plan were expected to be released at a community forum Thursday afternoon.
The health assessment was led by the Chicago Department of Public Health, along with a coalition of 40 stakeholders representing the broad spectrum of Chicago’s public health system and community groups.
Dr. David Ansell, who has worked on the West Side of Chicago for more than 40 years and wrote a book about the life expectancy gaps he witnessed, said in an interview Thursday that the report was notable because of its unsparing focus on the role systemic racism has played in causing the premature deaths of Black residents from everything from heart disease to gun violence.
“It was a book written out of frustration that we were never going to improve health if we didn’t get to the root problem,” Ansell, chief equity officer at Rush University Medical Center, said of “The Death Gap.” A video presentation from Ansell was expected to be shown at the community forum Thursday.
“The city has embraced this narrative,” he said. “It’s a tremendous advance, I think, in the city of Chicago, that this has been named and also that solutions have been named.”