Berkeley is known for electric cars, veganism, and inhabitants who strive to lead healthy lifestyles. Perhaps partially because of this, Berkeley residents are sometimes unaware of the many health issues in our city, let alone the intersectionality of race and health.
Last year, the Berkeley Community Health Commission (CHC) reached out to Berkeley High students in hopes of creating a group to address this. Athena Chin, Berkeley High senior, said, “[the] CHC wanted to hear about our concerns and recognized that we could help them reach out to the public.”
Friends of the Community Health Commission (FoCHC) was created in partnership with the CHC to educate people about health and safety issues in Berkeley. Enrique Lopez, recent BHS graduate and founder of the group, said, “Friends of the Community Health Commission was created to try to make students aware and … involved in the community in health aspects that are directly affecting them or their families.”
Among the most common health issues in Berkeley, Lopez said that both asthma and diabetes have had a large negative impact on the area, disproportionately affecting people of color.
In fact, data from the 2013 City of Berkeley Health Summary Report showed that compared to white children, African American children are 9 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma. African American Adults are 4 times more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes and 14 times more likely to be hospitalized from it.
Chin, current president of FoCHC, said that the group aims to raise awareness about these health disparities, which she described as “a difference in health outcomes across subgroups of the population.”
Chin also cited data from the 2013 report, which showed that African American Berkeley residents are twice as likely to die in a given year from any condition and two and a half times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease compared to white people.
Currently, the group is running a “Do You Know!?” campaign. Every month Friends of the Community Health Commission is releasing a new health statistic and focusing on a different health issue. September’s shocking fact states: “being overweight is a risk factor for diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases. Fourty percent of Berkeley 9th graders are at risk.”
Lopez hopes that facts like this will call attention to the need for a change. “I want to inspire students to take action and to be active members of the community,” he said
Campaigns in the future will also address the increased likelihood of disease and death
for people of color compared to white people. Concerning this issue, Chin said, “Once the public is more cognizant about the health disparities in our community and start to ask why certain groups are at higher risks for poor health outcomes because of their race or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination, then we can take action through prevention efforts.”
Statistics alone can seem detached from real human experience. Hoping to combat this, Chin said, “I am aware that statistics unintentionally dehumanize the victims, especially the large-scale ones, which is why we will work together to explain the detrimental impacts on our own community and try to eliminate those health disparities.
Although Chin says she has long been concerned with issues of community health, it has been hard to find others who are equally excited about them. Both Chin and Lopez said that recruiting members has posed a challenge to the club. “However,” says Chin, “with the new school year coming up, we hope that students who are interested will join our club and campaign!”
Chin may be educating the community, but she herself has become more aware about Berkeley health: “I’ve definitely learned more statistical information about the health of Berkeley’s residents… which, to this day, still shock me.” Although the statistics can be shocking and disheartening, educating the community is the first step to enacting a real change.