“When you look into maps, it just kind of shows what it is there but not necessarily how it affects others’ lives,” said Murray. “Over and over again we’ve heard Englewood neighborhood people talking about how disrespected they feel about the stores in their community… they compare it to going into a store in a white neighborhood where things seem to smell better and the presentation seems to be better,” Murray said.

“It’s not just about ‘are there stores?,’ it’s about what’s inside the stores and the presentation, quality, smell; and people talk about the lighting, how old the produce is,” said Murray.

Closing the Health Disparities Gap

To help combat the problem, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle said the county is re-examining how it provides those necessary services to Cook County. There will be a “greater emphasis on prevention and primary care, which will improve outcomes for our residents,” said Preckwinkle.

The county is in the process of putting that in place, and she hopes it will affect life expectancy. The county health department worked closely with the Joint Center to put the study together.

“We were active participants and collaborators in the company from the beginning,” said Preckwinkle. According to her, in the spring of 2010, the healthcare system released a future plan that focused on the same type of transformation.

The most important outcome of the study, Murray says, is the list of recommendations.

“First, improve the daily living conditions of people — make sure people have jobs, seniors have activities, union rights are protected,” Murray says, in addition to making sure people have affordable housing and affordable food.

Secondly, Murray says the county should “directly attack and try to solve the problems of inequities in power, money and resources.”

Lastly, she says, it’s important to measure and document what’s going on and track the health outcome and food access. “We try to measure what impact those changes had on people’s health.”

Block adds that, to strengthen the infrastructure, there’s an immediate need for people to start supporting public health departments, and “show that they can focus on collecting data that allows them to know what is working and what isn’t.”

The Cook County report, and others in the Place Matters series teams around the country, will be the focal point of the National Health Equity Conference sponsored by the Joint Center on Sept. 5, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

“The overall pattern in this report — and those of other reports the Joint Center has conducted with other Place Matters communities — suggests that we need to tackle the structures and systems that create and perpetuate inequality to fully close racial and ethnic health gaps,” said Smedley in a statement.

“Accordingly, because the Joint Center seeks not only to document these inequities, we are committed to helping remedy them,” he adds.

Renita Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter at @RenitaDYoung.