Houston's Health Worse Than Expected

Houston's Health Worse Than Expected
Call it the Houston health paradox: the glittering towers of the high-tech medical center sit just a few miles from neighborhoods burdened by illness. A new study of health breaks it down neighborhood by neighborhood, and reveals the problems are much worse than suspected.

The Hope Clinic is near Bellaire and Beltway 8, in the heart of Asia town. The clinic logs 10,000 appointments a year in 14 different languages.

A Chinese couple brings in their 11-month-old baby girl, who’s having trouble gaining weight:

“…Little bit cough, runny nose..(Mandarin translation)…I already prescribed a Tylenol…”

The new Health of Houston survey reveals that compared to other Houstonians, Asian-Americans report more problems with their health, and are less likely to get cancer screenings.

That wasn’t really news to the clinic staff, because they see the problems every day.

Dr. Andrea Caracostis is the director:

“They types of work they do, because they are newer immigrants are very low wage, very hard. You know working in the restaurant on your feet all day, cleaning, washing dishes, or in the grocery store, carrying things. There are 206 restaurants around this clinic. And I can assure you that maybe one provides health insurance.”

Dr. Stephen Linder at the UT School of Public Health led the study of more than 5,000 households.

“We were surprised that the health status of Houstonians wasn’t better. That the screening levels weren’t higher that a variety of conditions like smoking were substantially worse than expected. That the mental health serious psychological distress was twice the national rate.”

Other new and disturbing facts jumped out of the data. For example, one-third of Houstonians have no insurance, but among Hispanics it’s more than half. Or the fact that there are more uninsured girls than boys.

And the health of Vietnamese Americans appears to be much poorer than even other Asian groups.

Lynne Nguyen is a public health researcher for MD Anderson. She says health surveys usually lump Vietnamese together with all the other Asian groups.

“We are refugee population. And most of the other large Asian populations are immigrant populations.”

Some Vietnamese were traumatized by the war or by re-education camps. And the health effects of that can last for decades. But Nguyen also points out that all refugees come to Houston in a rush, with no resources and no time to study the language or set up a support system.

“I think that lack of planning and lack of preparation sort of leaves you flat-footed and I think it leaves you at much higher risk for health problems and health issues that you actually don’t have time to address.”                    

Linder says more research will be necessary to figure out why some of these health disparities exist. But  healthcare workers say they’ll use this data to target their outreach by language and culture, pull in more grants, and put clinics where they’re needed most.

To take a closer look at your neighborhood’s data, you can visit www.hhs2010.net.

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...