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Opinion: Chicago's Abandoning Poor Kids To Preventable Health Risks

The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

Want to know the breadth of inequality in Chicago? Just take a look at the childhood injury risks across the city's different neighborhoods.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago recently commissioned Internet marketing firm Digital Third Coast to create infographics detailing the different injury risks that children in Chicago face, divided by the different parts of the city -- North, Northwest, West, Southwest, South and the Far South sides. (Get the full details HERE.) The different parts of the city all seem to have their own unique problems, which may help illuminate just how neglected some neighborhoods -- and the children in them -- are by the city itself.

I've written a lot about gun violence, and the geographic similarities between gun violence and childhood injury risks are both expected and heartbreaking. More than anything else, they help to show that inequality is more than just a murder stat in a "bad neighborhood."

Firearm Injuries

When it comes to firearm injuries, teens in Chicago are far more likely to be injured by firearms on the West and South sides. What continues to be shocking is just how gigantic the disparity between Chicago's neighborhoods is.

Firearm injuries for teens occur at a rate of 54.4 (per 100,000) on the North side and 34 on the Northwest side. Disturbing numbers, yes, but they pale in comparison to the South side, which has a rate that's three and five times more than the North and Northwest sides, respectively -- a whopping 184.6. Sadly, these numbers lead to a much higher rate of firearm injuries for African American teens.

Guns aren't the only factors here -- it's the multitude of other health risks that show the full extent of Chicago's inequality. Rates of asthma in children, unintentional poisoning, sleep-related infant deaths, fall injuries... All of these problems disproportionately affect some Chicago children more than others.

Sleep related deaths
(Photo Credit: Lurie Children's Hospital/Digital Third Coast)

See the full injury report at (Image Credit: Lurie Children's Hospital/Digital Third Coast)

Sleep-Related Infant Deaths

Sleep-related infant deaths (undetermined and unintentional deaths, along with SIDS) geographically show a pattern similar to teen firearm deaths. Mostly, you see far more instances of sleep-related infant deaths on the South and West sides than you do on the North side. This affects the African American community far more than any other community. While the rate of sleep-related infant deaths among African Americans is nearly 3 (per 100,000), the rate for white Chicagoans is far lower, around .25.

Sandy (pseudonym) -- a social worker I talked to on the basis of anonymity -- said she thinks this large number of sleep-related infant deaths comes down to two factors: cultural beliefs and financial resources.

"Cribs take money to buy and space to exist in, and both of these are often scarce," she explained.

While co-sleeping -- which can be dangerous without the right resources -- has become a fad in more affluent neighborhoods, parents in impoverished areas have to turn to it as a necessity. As Sandy puts it, sleeping in the same bed as the baby gives the parents easy access to continue providing care in the middle of the night. This is preferable if you live in a small apartment, where you have to worry about waking other kids or family members in nearby rooms. With this said, parents in impoverished neighborhoods may not always have the resources for items like bumper pillows, which are commonly used to avoid the dangers of co-sleeping. And while hospitals will often provide low-income families with free or low-cost car seats, Sandy doesn't know of a similar program for bassinets or cribs, leaving families that can't afford proper sleeping arrangements in a tough spot.

(If you are in need of a crib, you can try UCAN Chicago, a Chicago organization that has partnered with Cribs for Kids.)

But for some neighborhoods, health risks endangering children can be affected by more than a family's financial resources. Sometimes it comes down to the very air you breath.


Another odd -- though by no means surprising -- takeaway from childhood injury statistics? Asthma.

It affects children ages zero to four more than all other ages. What's more, it affects the West and Southwest sides of Chicago more than any other parts of the city. While there's a rate of 1356.5 asthma hospitalizations for children aged zero to four on the Northwest side and a rate of 1062.3 for children on the North side, the number rises to a rate of 2167.2 and 1929.2 for the West and Southwest sides respectively.

This correlates with pollution problems on Chicago's West side, particularly in Pilsen and Little Village. Chicagoans have even have gone as far as to protest and sue metal and coal plants on the West side. The EPA itself has acknowledged a number of problems, including air pollution and lead in the soil. Of course, correlation does not imply causation, yadda yadda yadda... So I will leave it up to you to decide how you feel about the fact that the Chicago neighborhoods with the most pollution also just so happen to have the most hospitalizations related to asthma for children.

And Then There's...

It should be pointed out that there are a wide variety of childhood injury risks that don't necessarily follow the above pattern.

While the South and Far South sides show more unintentional poisoning cases than any other parts of the city, the Northwest and West sides see more motor vehicle and sports/outdoor injuries. While the West, Southwest and South sides see more fall injuries from young children, there are more occurrences of suicide and depression on the Northwest and North sides.

Just because I didn't give focus to all of these injuries doesn't mean they're not important. The suicide and depression numbers are particularly concerning, and a focus on better mental health needs to take hold not only in Chicago, but the country as a whole.

Instead of focusing on all the injuries highlighted on Lurie's infographics, I wanted to highlight a handful of injuries that are far more prevalent than they should be.

To be blunt, we should be ashamed of the disparity between risks for the Chicago children born in impoverished neighborhoods and those born in more wealthy neighborhoods.

We should strive to be better than this.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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