While Austin considered one of the nation’s healthiest cities, we experience large disparities in health outcomes in Austin’s “Eastern Crescent.” Systemically inadequate investment and resourcing of community assets in these areas, combined with other imbalances in social determinants of health have created barriers to healthy living and created obesity “hotspots.” Increasing cost of living has pressured lower income families in Austin to these areas where fewer healthy living assets exist. As improvements have arisen, this pressure threatens the permanency of these communities who have successfully organized to acquire improvement to the infrastructure and healthy food offerings in their neighborhoods.
A History of Segregation
Austin has the highest level of economic segregation in the United States, and racial segregation follows closely. Since the city’s 1928 Master Plan created a "Negro District" and a de facto "Mexican District" in East Austin, systemic pressures have perpetuated segregation and inequities, through red-lining in the decades following, combined with the effects of a school district that was the last in the country to establish a federally approved desegregation plan. While East Austin faced explicit racial segregation, South Austin neighborhoods have often faced an economic divide, left with a lack of investment from the central city and a variety of barriers to health.
As Austin grows and the cost of living rises, areas north, south and east of central East Austin have also grown, as have the disparities that follow those economically displaced from the central city, often farther from jobs and community resources and networks. This expanding area is commonly known as Austin's "Eastern Crescent" (shown at the image to the right), shaped like an arch that runs from North to South on the East side of downtown.
The Impact on Health
Families in the Eastern Crescent face high levels of food insecurity, a high prevalence of fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and lack of access to full-service grocery stores. Unsurprisingly, obesity rates in the Eastern Crescent are also high. A 2011 study by Children's Optimal Health (hotspot maps) showed high rates of student obesity and low rates of students passing cardiovascular tests in the Eastern Crescent schools. Without safe places to play and purchase healthy foods, residents of these areas experience significantly poorer health outcomes.
A 2017 research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that inequalities in life expectancy are strongly correlated to where a person lives, and much of the variation can be explained by socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors. These health and life expectancy statistics are called social determinants of health, and they include the social, emotional, economic, and physical environment of an individual are major factors in whether or not they can stay healthy.
For example, the CDC shows that risk factors for childhood obesity include a number of social determinants of health, such as:
- Being surrounded by advertising of less-healthy foods, impacting children's ability to make healthy food choices;
- Child care facilities' inability to encourage healthy eating and physical activity;
- A lack of safe and appealing places to play and be activities; and
- Limited access to healthy, affordable foods. Supermarket access is linked to a reduced risk for obesity, while an abundance of convenience stores and fast food restaurants in a neighborhood has been correlated with a high incidence of childhood obesity.
Unfortunately, the children in Austin zip codes 78744 and 78745 face many, if not all, of these environmental obstacles to health. The zip codes lack grocery stores, safe park facilities, complete sidewalks, and community centers.
How this Influences Our Work
Go Austin/Vamos Austin (GAVA) works to rectify these historical inequities relating to health. We recognize that up to 80% of an individual's health is determined by social factors, including socioeconomic status, local resources, and community culture. Therefore, we engage those from the communties most impacted to create solutions that improve health and access to healthy living in their neighborhoods. We also engage organizations and agencies to respond and adapt to the needs and interests of these communities. Read more below about our guiding principles and our community organizing model.
GAVA works in five sectors to build resident leadership capacity to address these health issues: physical activity, community food, early childhood, school health, and community safety. Visit our "mission, vision, and values" page, and "our model" page to learn more about how we address these issues using community organizing strategies.