Christine Stuart photo

A statewide organization of 81 local health districts announced Thursday that it received a three year, $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support development of a Health Equity Index.

The Health Equity Index will look at the social, economic, and environmental conditions that support or harm the health of Connecticut residents.

Sharon Mierzwa, head of the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, Inc., said to understand health equity people have to re-examine the way they look at health. She said a person’s job, working conditions, education, housing, social inclusion, and access to political power, all influence a person’s health as much as their genetic makeup.

State Rep. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said the data collected from the communities participating in the project will help guide public policy in the state.

Christine Stuart photo

Addressing a room of more than a dozen local health directors from around the state, Harp said while it’s critical to focus our efforts on what causes people to get sick in the first place, it’s also important to note that when “we talk about prevention we are talking about blaming the victims for their behaviors.”

“We should be talking about conditions that influence those behaviors,” Harp said.

For example, “In low-income neighborhoods dominated by liquor outlets and convenient stores they also often lack healthy food options. In many of our inner cities there aren’t even supermarkets,” Harp said. She said we need to ask ourselves:  “Do they have access to nutritious food?”

“If we fail to recognize that community conditions frame individual behaviors and actions, we will never, never truly address health inequities,” she said.

Harp promised Thursday to “actually fund what comes from this project.”

Last year the legislature created a 32-member Commission on Health Equity to eliminate disparities in health status based on race, ethnicity, and linguistic ability. Harp said Thursday that there was no funding in the budget for the commission, but appointments to the commission by leadership in both parties and the governor’s office are being made. She said she expects that over the next few months the commission will hold an organizational meeting and determine what kind of staff it needs. She said she hopes to find the money to fund the commission in next year’s budget.

The Commission on Health Equity is completely separate from the Health Equity Index project.