The annual survey of various aspects of Ohioans’ health showed improvements in some areas related to access to health care, but also saw that demographic disparities continue to hold the state back.

Ohio Health Policy Institute Yearbook Health care panel compares the state to the rest of the country in terms of overall health indicators, as well as social determinants such as poverty and health care costs, which can have a big impact on how healthy Ohioans are. It integrates data from federal and state agencies, as well as academic and non-profit research.

Ohio has seen significant improvement in areas such as adults’ access to value-based health care, support for breastfeeding and hospital-based infant care, local health department accreditation and outdoor air quality, the study found.

However, after 10 years of collecting data for the dashboard, HPIO said “it is clear that Ohioans continue to live less healthy lifestyles and spend more on health care than people in most other states.”

The health dashboard found that the state’s ranking among the nation has “significantly deteriorated” in areas such as mental health treatment for adults and the underserved, and preventive dental care for children.

Tobacco use was also seen as “one of the key factors contributing to Ohio’s low performance” compared to the rest of the country, as the rate of decline in consumption did not match that of other states.

Adverse childhood experiences account for 33% of smoking in the state, and “trauma and toxic stress” increase smoking rates among low-income adults who experience childhood adversity or poor mental health, according to the study.

“This means that increased efforts to prevent harms such as child abuse will reduce smoking, saving an estimated $2.2 billion annually in smoking-related health costs,” the researchers said.

Other health challenges facing states include a lack of resources when it comes to substance abuse, particularly opioid addiction, and barriers to employment, as the state’s labor force share declined by 9%.

“Ohio has more barriers to employment and wage growth than most other states, such as lower rates of postsecondary education and higher rates of incarceration, child abuse, and child neglect,” the health panel found.

With fewer than needed mental health resources, Ohio has seen an increase in depression among adults, and “significant disparities in depression rates persist among low-income Ohioans and those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” according to the study.

Ohio’s “behavioral health care workforce is insufficient to meet the growing demand,” the researchers said.

These disparities persist in many other aspects of health, with HPIO identifying racism and discrimination as a major contributor to health problems in general. The study found that a lack of justice only contributes to “harmful conditions and stressful experiences” that can cause or worsen health problems, even early death.

“Therefore, improving the health, well-being and economic vitality of Ohio involves ending racism and discrimination and their harmful effects so that all Ohioans, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, disability, income, sexual orientation or gender identity, have the opportunity to fully discover its health potential,” says the study.

The study confirms the improvements that have been made when it comes to equality: among black Ohioans, the unemployment rate has decreased by 33% between 2012 and 2021, and child poverty has also decreased by 16%.

But disparities remain, with HPIO’s “equity profile” concluding that black Ohioans are treated 10.3 times worse in health care because of race, have twice the “housing cost burden” compared to other groups and has nearly 3 times the infant mortality rate compared to other Ohioans.

Improving health care, especially for minorities, is a hot topic in the Ohio Legislature, with accompanying bills in the Ohio House and Senate, which wants to invest in community health centers to increase access to health care in underserved areas, along with state support for doula services to increase infant and maternal health outcomes.

The fate of these bills is uncertain despite their bipartisan sponsorship based on the many similar bills which entered the legislature but never passed both houses.

Groups similar to Ohio Commission on Minority Health are also trying to get help through the operating budget, which is currently under review with a June deadline.

Originally published Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

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