2013 Report on the Health of Women & Girls in Greater New Orleans

Mary Amelia Women's Center


We offer this first report to inform and advance the policy debate on the health of women and girls. Our examination of available existing health and social indicators across categories of health and wellness behavior, reproductive health, chronic disease, cancer, infectious disease, and social determinants of health generates three primary insights: 1) we observe stark racial disparities in many indicators, 2) we see unacceptably poor health outcomes on certain measures, most notably, high rates of sexual transmitted infections, significantly higher than even the alarming state rate, and 3) we see significant differences between Orleans and Jefferson Parishes and between them and the state as a whole. We will have a greater understanding of the health of women and girls when we have more representative data that differentiates by race, age, sexuality, and location, allowing us to better understand the social determinants of health.

This report highlights continuing gaps between white and black women and girls across numerous indicators, and points to the urgent need to address the underlying causes of such inequities in health and social conditions. White high school girls were more likely to binge drink and try marijuana than black girls. Although black girls were more likely to have had sex, fewer of them used condoms or birth control than white girls. While the overall number of women who seek early prenatal care is high, mortality rates were higher for black infants compared to white infants. Black girls were more likely than white girls to report being physically hurt on purpose by a partner in the last year and to be threatened at school. Black women were only slightly more likely to get breast cancer, but more likely to die from it than white women.

Findings reveal poor progress among all races of women and girls for certain indicators, with less than 15% of adult women consuming the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables, less than half meeting the requirements for aerobic activity, and roughly 20% or more indicating that they currently smoked cigarettes. Overall, over 30% of women were obese, with some groups having overweight and obesity prevalences as high as almost 50% for both women and girls. Sexually transmitted diseases were present in epidemic rates. Although women were more likely to be insured than men, a quarter still remained uninsured. The majority of households living below the poverty line were headed by women.

Differences between Orleans and Jefferson Parish and between these parishes and the state are also of note. Women in Jefferson Parish were the most likely to report binge drinking in the past month, with white women reporting a significantly higher prevalence. The distribution of educational attainment was different in Orleans versus Jefferson Parish, especially for white women with graduate or professional degrees.

In addition to the use of self-reported and non-representative data on a number of indicators, especially at the parish level, a key limitation to this report is the lack of available data on women and girls of other races and ethnicities and on girls younger than high school age. While the data reported should be interpreted with caution, it still brings to light many issues of concern and creates further impetus to better understand the health of women and girls not only in our cities locally but across the state. In future reports, we hope to better examine the intersectional nature of social and health outcomes among women and girls and to gather additional information on indicators such as domestic violence, substance use, and mental health treatment. This first report is just, therefore, the beginning of what we hope to be a long and deeper conversation leading to a healthy Greater New Orleans that includes healthy women and girls.

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