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A landmark study about the health of African-Americans in the St. Louis region was released on Friday, and it’s no coincidence the time coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The civil rights movement didn’t neatly tie up every issue, despite what many idealistically think, according to the lead researcher on the project, Jason Q. Purnell, assistant professor in the Brown School at Washington University.

“Toward the end of his life even Dr. (Martin Luther) King said economic opportunity needed to be the next step in the civil rights struggle,” Purnell said. “He was organizing a poor people’s campaign.”

The study, called “For the Sake of All: A Report on the Health and Well-Being of African Americans in St. Louis,” found that disparities in the region and the life lost among poor and low-educated African-Americans cost an estimated at $3.3 billion. The study looked at how health is affected by factors such as education, income, neighborhood makeup and quality, and access to resources like healthy foods and safe areas to live and play.

Purnell’s team included researchers from Washington University and St. Louis University. They released the findings Friday at a conference of elected officials, community leaders and citizens at the Missouri History Museum.

The study includes a life expectancy map based on local ZIP codes (age 67 in 63106 just north of downtown St. Louis; age 82 in 63017 in Chesterfield), unemployment rates for St. Louis and St. Louis County residents (21 percent for African-Americans and 6 percent for whites), and a story of a fictional girl named Jasmine, a simplified look at the life of a girl whose outcome depends on the circumstances into which she is born.

The study also includes six recommendations that evolved from more than a year of research. Those are:

  • Invest in quality early-childhood development for all children.
  • Help low- to moderate-income families create economic opportunities.
  • Invest in coordinated school-health programs for all students.
  • Invest in mental health awareness, screening, treatment and surveillance.
  • Invest in quality neighborhoods for all in St. Louis.
  • Coordinate and expand chronic and infectious disease prevention and management.

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As for what happens from here, researchers are going to look at how the goals align with those in the community, such as the sustainability plan for St. Louis and the strategic plan for St. Louis County, and then ask business leaders to take action, Purnell said.

“It’s a lot of work, and we have to be realistic, this is decades of work,” Purnell said. “It’s not going to be any one actor or even one sector that solves this issue; we’re going to have to work with many actors and across sectors.”

To read the study, visit forthesakeofall.org.

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