Health Outcomes in Kansas City: A Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

February 25, 2019

As individuals, when we think of someone’s ZIP code, education level or income, we think of census data or maybe demographics, not factors of their life expectancy. We correlate our health to medical care and genetics. The truth is, both of these only account for 20 percent of our health outcomes. Eighty percent are socioeconomic and environmental factors as well as our own health behaviors – where we live and work, access to healthy food, what we choose to eat, how safe we are, the type and level of education we receive, and our income.  For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Life Expectancy Calculator predicts the life expectancy for my previous home ZIP code in Jackson County, Missouri to be 69 years. Drive across town to my current ZIP code in Johnson County, Kansas, and the estimated life expectancy increases by a decade. This is one example of the social determinants of health. The vast difference in health outcomes based on the community in which someone lives, works and plays.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) is working to raise awareness of the social determinants of health and to implement actionable solutions for our members and in the Kansas City community.

Social Determinants of Health and Kansas City

There are unique challenges and opportunities we face as a city that each shape the health outcomes of our residents and Blue KC members. Here are three examples that serve as the impetus for Blue KC’s efforts around the social determinants of health:

  • In Kansas City, 1 in 6 people are food insecure – 350,000 people in our community don’t know where their next meal will come from, and 100,000 of those people are children. Food insecurity is associated with multiple poor health outcomes among adults, including a host of complex chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, poor mental health and depression, and higher medical costs.
  • One in three children in Kansas City is not prepared for kindergarten – Unpreparedness for kindergarten means increased likelihood of special education needs, behavioral problems, cognitive issues and an overall achievement disadvantage in life.
  • Our murder rate has consistently ranked among the highest in the nation – A recently released FBI report places Kansas City at fifth-highest in the nation for homicides per 100,000 residents. This translates to a community’s high exposure to violence, trauma and adverse childhood experiences which numerous studies strongly correlate to poor physical and mental health. That’s why both systemic and grassroots initiatives like Violence Free KC are critical.

Blue KC’s Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

The vision for Blue KC’s involvement in addressing the social determinants of health is consistent with our mission – to provide affordable access to healthcare and to improve the health of our members. Our aim for the future is for non-medical factors to be considered in every facet of the healthcare ecosystem and beyond, and we’ll use our role to catalyze or influence this. Whether it’s treatment planning to include transportation to and from a doctor’s appointment, or city planning for walkable communities, access to neighborhood grocery stores and affordable housing. As an organization, we are bringing a culture of health to life through community partnerships, advocacy, research and evolution of our benefits and coverage.

As a start, Blue KC is focused on food insecurity, understanding that food is medicine and the foundation to good health. Our signature community impact program, Well Stocked was launched in 2018 with the vision of increasing access to nutritious food in underserved areas of Kansas City. We are partnering with local organizations to address hunger disparity.  We also recently announced the Transforming KC Health Research Grant, which will award up to $400,000 over two years to organizations working together to research health outcomes when food insecure families have access to healthy food. These partnerships will help us broaden our reach and make meaningful impact in the community.

Although the social determinants of health are systemic and challenging, they are not insurmountable. To learn more about the social determinants of health and Blue KC’s other community impact initiatives, visit our website.