HOUSTON (October 12, 2020)

A new report found that residents in some of southwest Houston’s most diverse communities experience a higher burden of chronic disease and multiple social, economic and environmental barriers that affect their overall health.

The study, conducted by Texas Health Institute and commissioned by the Memorial Hermann Community Benefit Corporation – in partnership with the Alliance, Bee Busy Wellness Center, Community Health Choice, Culture of Health-Advancing Together and the Chinese Community Center – surveyed 1,000 adults in over two dozen different languages who live in seven southwest Houston zip codes covering neighborhoods in Alief, Gulfton, Sharpstown, Westbury and Greater Fondren. Data was collected from the fall and winter of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purpose of this initiative was to conduct a community-based survey to identify and prioritize the primary social determinants driving health in southwest Houston, determine distinct neighborhood needs and lived experiences of diverse populations in the area and to inform actionable and collaborative solutions to improve population health.

“We conducted the survey to find out what those in the community thought were their barriers to good health. We did not want to assume we knew,” said Carol Paret, Senior Vice President and Chief Community Health Officer with Memorial Hermann Health System. “Southwest Houston is remarkably diverse, and the study showed that the needs and perceptions within the area are very different. It found that there is no one approach to improving the health of the community.”

Some of the survey’s key findings include:

  • Residents had more cases of high blood pressure (32 percent), diabetes (19 percent) and depression (19 percent) than others in Harris County and throughout the State of Texas. Caucasians and African-Americans in these communities faced even higher rates of these conditions.
  • A high percentage of residents experienced problems with food insecurity, crime and pollution. In fact, 40 percent of adult residents were unable to pay for food in the past year. In addition, 47 percent of adults in the surveyed areas do not have health insurance compared to 27 percent of adults throughout the rest of Houston, according to the 2018 Health of Houston survey. Hispanics accounted for the highest number of uninsured at 61 percent. Nearly 50 percent of residents also cited crime and pollution as major barriers to good health.
  • Four out of five people surveyed believe social determinants of health play a key role in their overall good health. Over 80 percent of residents said access to affordable and nutritious foods, a stable job and income, a safe neighborhood, affordable housing and access to transportation are just as important as having health insurance. More than two-thirds also said it is important for healthcare providers to screen for social needs when providing health care. Currently, according to only one-tenth of residents, healthcare providers do such screening.

Many areas of southwest Houston have been hit hard by the spread of COVID-19, and many residents are facing the harsh realities of a faltering economy with increased worries about food insecurity, unemployment and eviction from their homes or apartments.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed, but further exacerbated the deep challenges southwest Houston communities were already facing as documented in this study,” said Nadia Siddiqui, Director of Health Equity Programs with Texas Health Institute. “Ensuring these communities emerge from this pandemic and are able to withstand future crises will require investing in the conditions that help communities thrive such as food security, safe neighborhoods, stable housing and health insurance coverage.”

Recognizing the social determinants of health is a critical component to setting people on a path to good health and well-being. This is even more evident now in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic where social and economic problems have widened and access to health care is vital.

“It is clear from this survey that the community wants definitive action taken to tackle the many problems that directly and indirectly affect their overall health, especially food insecurity and transportation,” Paret said. “Making positive changes in these communities will take a concerted effort on the part of community and healthcare leaders as well as the individuals themselves. We at Memorial Hermann will be working with our community partners to ensure that we do all we can to help improve the lives of southwest Houston residents.”

Please visit the Health Equity page to access the full report or download the report here.