My community, Houston, TX, is known for its large and diverse population. As of 2020, the population stands at around 2.33 million people, making it the largest city in all of Texas and the 4th most populous city in the United States. According to worldpopulationreview.com, Houston has a population density is of 3,657 people per square mile and its racial composition is as follows: 57.63% White, 22.54% Black or African American, 10.50% Other Race, 6.89% Asian, 2.07% Two or More Races, 0.32% Native American, and 0.06% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The average household income for Houston is about $81,995 and the city has a poverty rate of 20.57%.
Houston is extremely multicultural as there are 145 different languages spoken and a third of Houstonians older than five speak a language other than English at home. When ranking the cities that have the largest Hispanic population, Houston ranks 3rd in the US with about 41.4% of its population being Hispanic, according to an article in usnews.com. It is also estimated that there are about 400,000 undocumented people living in the Houston area alone and, the median age in Houston is 32.9 years, indicating a young population.
The majority of Houston is contained within Harris County, although Houston also extends slightly into the Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. Harris County is home to approximately 4.7 million residents, including me!
Because Houston is such a large city, there are many factors that influence the health of the community, and each factor affects people differently. Some of the determinants of health that I will mention in this blog post are education, financial security, the Houston environment, and access to food.
The city of Houston has countless educational opportunities. There are about 25 independent school districts with the largest being the Houston Independent School District (HISD) as it has 288 schools within the district providing over 13,000 teacher jobs and educating over 210,000 students. I personally went to the Spring Branch Independent School District (SBISD) which is a significantly smaller school district in Houston. SBISD only has about 44 schools, 4 of them being traditional high schools.
The greater Houston area has 14 major institutions of higher learning and more than 60 degree-granting colleges, universities, and technical schools. Rice University and the University of Houston are tier-one research universities in the Houston region.
As mentioned earlier, the majority of Houston is contained in Harris County. I mention this as some of the following data only takes into account Harris County while others do view the city of Houston as a whole. I will note the differences.
As of 2017, the high school dropout rate for Harris County and the Houston area is 7.8% while about 17.1% of adults haven’t finished high school. This means the region is behind both the state and national averages as it was reported that for the first time in US history, 90% of the population that was 25+ in 2017 completed high school. This is a large factor that can influence the health of the community as the level of education can often determine what opportunities are open to a person such as what jobs they can have and how much their income will be. Although Houston has numerous school districts that provide an adequate education to a large number of students, 61.6% are economically disadvantaged causing the majority of the students enrolled in public schools to qualify for free and reduced lunch but, according to understandinghouston.org, with the growing Hispanic and economically disadvantaged population, there have been more opportunities and programs arising to allow students from various backgrounds to succeed.
Moving onto financial security, from the measurement period of 2014-2018, there seemed to be 32.4% of children living below the poverty line in Houston. This is a big factor that influences the health of the community since compared to their peers, children living in poverty are more likely to have physical health problems as well as behavioral and emotional problems. With the increase of health issues, it usually means more money is needed for medical attention which is exactly what people living below the poverty line lack. In the city of Houston, 1 in 5 Hispanics and Blacks live in poverty with the percentages being 20 and 22 respectively. As mentioned earlier, the average household income for Houston is about $81,995, and the city’s poverty rate is 20.57%.
Houston is a large city and with large cities comes low walkability. When there is low walkability, it means that if you need to go to work, get groceries, go to school, etc. you will need a car, if not, you will have to rely on public transportation. In Houston, the public bus transportation is known as METRO and, due to the pandemic, people are required to wear face at all times. Other safety measures have been implemented as well such as no longer being able to board from the back door and extra busses have been added to encourage social distancing. With there being little to no places one can simply walk to, it means traffic becomes a big problem both for Houston residents and the environment. From the 2014-2018 measurement period, it was concluded that the mean travel time to work in Houston is 27.4 minutes and it seems to be increasing. Lengthy commuting times can contribute to health problems such as headaches, anxiety, and increased blood pressure plus it increases expenses which can lead to financial stress.
Aside from this, Houston rates first in total park acreage among US cities with more than one million residents. Of the 50 largest parks located in US cities, 4 of them are in Houston. Those parks are Cullen Park, George Bush Park, Lake Houston Wilderness Park, and Bear Creek Pioneers Park. As of April 2020, in Harris County, it is estimated that about 90.6% of individuals live reasonably close to a park or recreational facility allowing them to have access to several exercise opportunities. Regular physical activity can benefit health as it can lead to weight control, muscle and bone strengthening, improved mental health and mood, and a greater life expectancy. Exercise reduces the risks of serious cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even some cancers.
Lastly, I would like to talk about access to food. As of 2015, the percentage of individuals with low access to a grocery store in Harris County is 18.1% but it does seem to follow a downward trend. The accessibility, availability, and affordability of such food options increase the chances of having a balanced and nutritious diet. Low-income and underserved areas often have a limited number of stores that sell healthy food therefore by having grocery stores in close proximity, it can decrease the chances of consuming readily available food from convenience stores and fast-food restaurants. Also in Harris county, 14.8% of the population experienced food insecurity at some point in the year 2018. Food insecurity is associated with chronic health problems including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, mental health issues, etc. This percentage is most likely due to poverty and unemployment levels since there are countless areas that can provide food but not everyone has the economic needs to get the food they need.
A problem that I believe can also be contributing to this percentage is the lack of knowledge about such programs. The State of Texas has a social service hotline that is available 24/7, 365 days of the year. One can dial 2-1-1 and find information about resources in the local community including where to find food, housing, childcare, crisis counseling, substance abuse treatment, etc. One can either call or click on this link. If you don’t know where to start, there is also the option for a guided search. To conclude this blog post, I would also like to provide a link to an interactive map of various food access-related services in Houston. It is important to note that the data was collected between 2016-2017 (prior to Hurricane Harvey) so there is a possibility that some locations are no longer available but I feel it can be essential information, especially during COVID-19. Feel free to click on the Houston Area Food Access Map tool and apply layers of what you want to see.