New ALICE comparisons highlight local health care concerns

New ALICE comparisons highlight local health care concerns

By: Heather Mongilio. This material was originally posted on The Frederick News-Post. We were given permission to cross-post this blog.


The Frederick News-Post


More than half of the families living in the 21788 ZIP code near Thurmont are considered Asset-Limited Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) households.

Those households fall above the poverty line but struggle to pay the basic costs of living, such as food, rent and transportation. But despite a high percentage of ALICE households, the percentage of adults who identified as obese is less than half, one of the lower percentages in the county.

The comparison comes from a newly released interactive tool created by United Way of Frederick County and Frederick Regional Health System. The tool allows people to compare the percentage of ALICE households in areas of the county to obesity, air quality, life expectancy at birth and low food access.

It was ZIP codes such as 21788 that came as a bit of a surprise, said Malcolm Furgol, director of community impact with United Way of Frederick County. ZIP code 21773, where 30 percent of households are ALICE and approximately 72 percent of adults identify as obese, also surprised Furgol.

“So it goes to show not all of our lifestyles are the same in these jurisdictions, which are producing these health outcomes,” he said. “So in other words, in a farming-heavy ZIP code it might be different, even though it’s high ALICE, than a community that’s more urban, more different types of jobs. So I think that’s also interesting.”

It makes sense when he says it, but United Way did not see the comparisons before analyzing them through the graphics, he said.

With the comparisons available, United Way, Frederick Regional Health System and other partners can better target their efforts, Furgol said.

There were multiple reasons to do direct health outcome comparisons in an interactive graphic, he said. The first was the partnership with Frederick Memorial Hospital on Livable Frederick. An FMH representative was not available for comment Tuesday.

Another reason was sharing information with partners working on the Local Health Improvement Plan. United Way is involved in the adverse childhood experiences work group, Furgol said.

The information provided in the infographics is not necessarily new — just the presentation. But the ability to compare the data visually can make it easier to understand than reading it in a report. It can also make the comparisons stand out.

“The idea here is that it’s faster to communicate things visually,” he said.

Like with life expectancy. Areas such as Brunswick and northern parts of the county had lower life expectancies, as well as a higher percentage of ALICE households.

But having the lowest percentage of ALICE households did not necessarily mean that an area had the highest life expectancy, based on 2016 data.

The Ballenger Creek area of Frederick, where 38 percent of households fall under the ALICE line, had the lowest life expectancy from birth at approximately 74 years. Spring Ridge in Frederick, where 37 percent of households fall under the ALICE line, had the highest life expectancy at approximately 87.5 years.

The obesity data also shows that people of different means have different concerns. The Urbana area might not be lacking the ability to get food because many people can drive. But long commutes or desk jobs might attribute to a higher obesity rate.

“It shows people make different choices based on means, which is interesting,” Furgol said.

The data are targeted at local nonprofits and governments, although it can also be useful for interested residents, Furgol said.

The figures presented in the infographics are important because they can help those agencies make informed decisions, said United Way of Frederick County CEO Ken Oldham.

While there were some data that bucked the trend, overall they confirmed what United Way of Frederick County already knew about ALICE households.

The health outcomes data also confirms what many in social services and health care fields have begun to focus on — the social determinants of health. Quality of air will affect children and adults with respiratory illnesses. Access to transportation can affect how easily someone can get to a grocery store or the ability to exercise.

Furgol said United Way and Frederick Memorial Hospital have begun discussions on affordable housing, as housing quality can affect a person’s health.

ALICE data comes out on a two-year cycle. United Way is planning to present another analysis of data in the upcoming months, Furgol said.

As it enters the second year, United Way plans to use the ALICE data for more advocacy and awareness, he said.

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