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Recently Released Health Indicators Fall Along Racial Lines, Again

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA
A medical worker holds a sign during a White Coats for Black Lives demonstration in Oakland this summer.

On today's program: An epidemiologist explains why recently released health data for Pittsburgh women and children continues to fall along racial lines; President Donald Trump performed well in Pennsylvania, but it’s unclear if that GOP support will carry beyond his tenure; and a we hear a few suggestions for getting outside, even as the cold weather arrives.


One epidemiologist says persistent racial health disparities means reevaluating the systems
(0:00 - 7:52)

Data released in November says Black mothers in Pittsburgh are statistically twice as likely as white mothers to give birth prematurely and to have babies with a low birth weight. Either situation can create complications in early childhood. The state health department released the information in it’s annual Maternal and Child Health Status Indicators report, analyzing data from 2018.

Dr. Dara Mendez, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh and interim director of the  Center for Health Equity says the indicators - low birth weight and preterm birth- can clue caregivers in on what to expect of infant, fetal, and potentially long term health. Mendez says the causes of such outcomes are under dispute.

Regarding the recent report, Mendez says it shows racial health disparities will continue to persist unless social and racial inequalities and inequities are addressed.

“What we suspect in the field is that COVID will exacerbate these disparities,” says Mendez.

“A lot of us in the field are really elevating systems change, and eliminating this mother or pregnant-person blame narrative that puts more of the onus on individual [choices] versus looking at the systems that created these conditions in the first place,” Mendez says.

Mendez says naming racism as a public health crisis, as the City of Pittsburgh did last December, followed by Allegheny County in May, is a start.

The next step is to ask, “In what ways are systems -  whether that’s healthcare systems, criminal justice systems, education - are those systems actively dismantling racism?”

Mendez points to leaders in this work: “scholars of colors, activists, advocates of color who are really moving this work forward,” as well as those in the legislature who are proposing bills to change these systems more permanently.

How Trump-supporters could shape the 2022 elections
(7:57 - 12:55)

President Trump didn’t win Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election, but he outperformed pretty much every poll, receiving 400,000 more votes than he did in 2016.
WHYY’s Miles Bryan reports for Keystone Crossroads, that’s raised one big question for state Republicans thinking about the senate and governor’s race in 2022: Will Trump’s new voters come out when the president is no longer on the ballot?

Getting outside, despite the cold weather
(13:04 - 18:00)

Pittsburgh saw its first snowfall of the season last Tuesday. For some, favorite winter activities, like hockey, ice skating or skiing may seem too dangerous because of the pandemic.

But, there’s always a simple walk to get your fill of the outdoors.

Tyson Johnston, the Land Stewardship Coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, says there are plenty of places to get outside while getting some space from other people.

“The closest to Pittsburgh would probably be Tom's Run Natural area, which is kind of up in the Sewickley area,” says Johnston. “We just finished putting in a about two mile trail this past year, a nice loop trail, it would be a nice place to get out and enjoy a winter afternoon.”

Johnston says there’s also the Bear Run Nature Reserve, and West Branch French Creek Conservation Area, which includes 5,000 acres of land.

Johnston says it’s good to prepare as one would any other trip to the outdoors: do research ahead of time to get a sense of where you’re going, wear warm clothes, pack extra snacks and water, and tell someone where you’re going.

He adds that even trails frequented in warmer months can feel like a new place in a different season: “You might find a frozen wetland that can be just beautiful with a coating of ice and some snow accenting it in the winter time.

When it comes to trails that are kid-friendly, Johnston suggests seeking out flat options, like the trail along Wolf Creek, known for its wildflowers in the warmer months.

Johnston says his winter activities of choice depend on whether the region gets adequate snow this year.

“I purchased at a garage sale a set of snow shoes last year and I'm looking forward to getting out, should we have enough snow, to use them,” he says.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at ltsutsui@wesa.fm.
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