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Health Disparities in Chicago: A Call to Action

Leaders from 11 New Communities Program (NCP) organizations and four partner agencies gathered at the LISC Chicago offices in early June for a frank conversation about health disparities in Chicago. Dr. Steve Whitman, the presenter and Director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute, emphasized the importance of acknowledging race and racism in these discussions.

Dr. Whitman and his colleagues have done groundbreaking research on health disparities between black and white Chicagoans. Of the 15 "health status indicators" they examined between 1990-2005 (including lung cancer, diabetes, and female breast cancer), the disparity between black and white Chicagoans worsened for 11 of 15 indicators, and in five of these areas the increase was significant. In contrast, over this same period in the United States as a whole, disparities between blacks and whites improved slightly.

According to Whitman, these disparities result in the 'excess deaths' of 3,200 black Chicagoans each year. Nine deaths per day could be avoided if the black and white death rates were equal for these 15 health status indicators.

Attendees shared health initiatives already underway in their communities and asked what more they could do. All agreed that correcting this life and death situation will take a village, and community engagement will be key. Simply talking about this data and doing nothing about it is like "stepping over a bleeding body in the street," Whitman said. Community organizations seeking to affect change should, first, clearly state what they hope to achieve and identify the data they'll need to prove it. Second, they must seek adequate funding for the work. Third, organizations must share what they've accomplished and acknowledge what worked and what didn't, so no one else repeats these mistakes.

LISC Chicago will continue to support its community partners as they transform this information into action. For more information on LISC's Neighborhood Health Initiative, contact Program Officer Dominique Williams at or (312) 422-9571.

Whitman's book, Urban Health: Combating Disparities with Local Data, is available here. To learn more about the Sinai Urban Health Institute and access their research, visit

LISC Chicago’s health work is funded in part by the Otho S. A. Sprague Memorial Institute.


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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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