Central Valley

Income gap equals health gap for women in the Central Valley

Poor and minority women are more likely to be in poor health, be obese and lack insurance, and the health disparities are glaring in the poverty-stricken Valley, according to a new report.

Low-income women between 18 and 64 are three times more likely than higher-income women to say they are in fair to poor health, according to the women's health report by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research issued Thursday.

Poor women are four times more likely to lack health insurance to pay for medical care than women with higher incomes, the study found. The Valley, where 26.5 percent of low-income women are without insurance, has the highest percentage of uninsured women of any region in the state.

Among low-income women statewide, Lationos are three times more likely to be uninsured than Caucasians. In the Valley, 34.4 percent of Latino women are uninsured.

Across the board, low-income women are most affected by health disparities, followed by minority women, said Erin Peckham, a researcher at the health policy center at the University of California at Los Angeles and one of the authors of the "Women's Health in California" report.

Health disparities confronting low-income and minorities in the Valley are real, said Edie Jessup, the hunger and nutrition manager at Fresno Metro Ministry. "It's not something we're making up or whining about. It's truly a fact here," Jessup said.

"People might want to do better with their health, but the lack of money, the lack of medical care and the lack of access in low-income neighborhoods to healthy foods and safe physical activity are the things that low-income people in the Valley areas face," she said.

The report said low-income women are more likely to be overweight or obese, which can increase the risk for health conditions, such as arthritis and diabetes. And poor women in the Valley are fatter than their counterparts statewide.

More than 20 percent of low-income women statewide are obese and an additional 25.5 percent are overweight. In the Valley, 32.5 percent of low-income women are obese and 25.1 percent are overweight, according to the report. The results were based on more than 50,000 telephone interviews during surveys in 2001 and 2005.

Low-income women also are more likely to experience health problems such as arthritis, high-blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes than higher-income women, and the health problems affect their quality of life. Almost 19 percent said a health condition limits walking or climbing stairs, reaching, lifting or carrying something, compared with 11.8 percent of higher-income women.

"Bottom line, if you're poor or a minority you are potentially in trouble health-wise," Peckham said.

The report did not list solutions, but Peckham said there's an obvious answer: "California needs to renew its efforts at seeking a solution to our lack of health insurance overall."