Nearly every day, it seems, a new study is released that points to the causes or effects of one health issue or another. From West Nile Virus to the dangers of BPA in plastics, public health problems are often thought of in isolation. But that’s neither how organisms nor cities operate.
To highlight the interconnectivity of critical issues facing Washington, D.C. residents, researchers at the online Masters of Public Health program at George Washington University (MPH@GW) created an ambitious infographic, Health and Wellness in the District of Columbia, that touches on everything from substance abuse and hunger to crime and HIV.
As opposed to infographics that hype up alarming stats but offer no remedy, the work offers potential long-term solutions to the problems and references existing government programs and non-profit organizations already doing the work. It intentionally provides the most basic information. “Obviously this graphic is not meant to be a deep dive into any one issue,” says Emily Newhook, who helped put the infographic together, “but in a way, we wanted it to line [these problems] up side by side, so that people could see that none of these problems exist in a vacuum.”
Demographic information near the top (like how D.C.’s population increased 7.4 percent from 2010 to 2012) sets the stage for the city’s shifting issues.
An example of overlapping issues is revealed in the sections on hunger and obesity. “A lot of the same organizations could be in both,” Newhook explains. “Places like Miriam’s Kitchen or DC Free Summer Meals Program are cognizant of nutrition and that we’re lowering the obesity rate as well as ensuring that D.C. kids are getting not just enough food, but the right food.”
Even though the graphic has a vertical quality, the issues aren’t sorted in any meaningful order. When I asked why the section on HIV and AIDS appears higher than the section on crime, Newhook comments, “D.C. has had a big problem with HIV and AIDS, so that may have just come to mind more quickly. Certainly crime is also a problem in D.C. The longer I worked on this project the question of what needs to be addressed first has become even murkier, because no one is more problematic than the other.”
MPH@GW has plans to reproduce similar infographics for other cities, potentially beginning with New York and Philadelphia. Once they are complete, the graphics can be compared to one another to see what they reveal.
“Part of why we put the solutions in there is so that people who read it have an immediate next step to take,” says Newhook. “[Residents] can say, ‘Okay, I see that obesity is a problem in this way, how can I help? Oh, there’s a website that I can go to and an organization that I can get in touch with right now. I can contribute today.’”
You can see the entire infographic here.
The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Alexis Stephens was Next City’s 2014-2015 equitable cities fellow. She’s written about housing, pop culture, global music subcultures, and more for publications like Shelterforce, Rolling Stone, SPIN, and MTV Iggy. She has a B.A. in urban studies from Barnard College and an M.S. in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania.