Merced’s black population, one of the smallest in the county, is also one of the most affected by health disparities, according to local health leaders.
On Friday, organizers at Merced’s Healthy House kicked off a community project that is supposed to address these disparities over the next several years.
To facilitate services, outreach and research, the project aims to bring on board UC Merced professors, church leaders and public health educators.
According to Friday’s presenters, blacks make up about 4 percent of Merced County’s population, and data show that this population is decreasing. When certain groups are small, their issues are often overlooked, organizers said.
Stephanie Nathan, a supervising health educator at the department of public health, said disparities begin with maternal and child health.
The latest data available show that more than half of black mothers in Merced County receive no prenatal care in the first trimester – only 49.2 percent do. Data also show that the teen birth rate among black women ages 15 to 19 ranks among the highest in the county – at 54.2 births per every 1,000 teens. That’s almost double the rate of teen births among white women.
The disparities also translate statewide, where it is estimated that 14.1 percent of black children lived in poverty from 2010 to 2012.
In a place where the black population is small, it’s often difficult to find data for that group in county or state reports. This makes it harder for health officials to measure these disparities and to pinpoint the areas of greater need.
This is where university researchers come in. Dr. Robin DeLugan, an anthropology professor at UC Merced, explained how students and staff could be of help to disadvantaged communities.
DeLugan shared that a few years ago, UC Merced undergraduates took on a research project where they surveyed 260 families in South Dos Palos. The door-to-door initiative helped collect data on residents’ needs and concerns. The survey also found that nearly half of residents in South Dos Palos had lived there less than 10 years, highlighting a period of demographic shift.
This type of data is used when the county is applying for grants. Without statistics to prove a community’s need, it is less likely to be considered for state funding, DeLugan said.
According to DeLugan, the data gathered was presented to South Dos Palos City Council officials and county Supervisor Jerry O’Banion.
The goal, she said, is to find ways to apply similar research methods to collect data with the black community. “We want to lend our research energy and partner with these communities,” DeLugan said.
The project committee plans to meet next month to continue the conversation on health disparities.