First study of health indicators in two Chicago Jewish neighborhoods report
Submitted to: Health 
Posted: October 19 2006


19 October 2006 ( - On Sunday, October 22, Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago will release the results of the Jewish Community Health Survey of West Rogers Park and Peterson Park, a comprehensive examination of health behaviors, outcomes and health care access among individuals living in the most concentrated Jewish community in Chicago.

The report, based on interviews with 201 Jewish adults and 58 caregivers of children, found that nearly one-third (31%) of Jewish adults in the West Rogers Park and Peterson Park neighborhoods were overweight, with an additional 25% who were obese. Likewise, the majority (54%) of children ages 2-12 were overweight. A Jewish child living in this community is approximately twice as likely to be obese as the average American child.

“The good news is that the individuals in these neighborhoods are generally as healthy – or healthier – than the average residents of Chicago or the U.S.,” said Maureen Benjamins, Project Director, Sinai Urban Health Institute. “However, many serious health concerns still exist for both adults and children. This survey is essential to the community, as it will guide our interventions and help to develop targeted community services.”

Although the Jewish Federation’s Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Study (MCJPS) provides city-wide data and the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) provides national estimates for many characteristics, this study is the first to provide detailed health data for Jewish neighborhoods in Chicago. Two-thirds of the Jewish residents of these neighborhoods are Orthodox, and the vast majority belongs to a synagogue (81%) and keep kosher (79%), all levels that are far higher than for the Chicago-area Jewish community as a whole.

“The health of our community is one of the most vital assets we have,” said Joel Carp, Senior Vice President Emeritus, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “These findings provide a sobering reminder of our responsibility as a community to educate each other and to care for one another. I am encouraged by the intervention activities already underway in our schools and look forward to a continued partnership with SUHI to bring even more programming to the community.”

High Incidence of Overweight and Obese Adults and Children

Nearly one-third of the adults (31%) were overweight and an additional one-quarter (25%) were obese. Not surprisingly, overweight and obese individuals had a much higher likelihood of having been diagnosed with chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. When asked how they perceived their own weight status, almost a third of individuals could not correctly identify their status, though the majority of individuals in each weight group (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) did.

As with adults, obesity was a significant problem among children in the Jewish community of West Rogers Park/Peterson Park. Among children 2-12 years old, 28% were overweight and an additional 26% were obese. In other words, less than half were an appropriate weight for their height. Most strikingly, over one-third of children 2-5 years of age in West Rogers Park and Peterson Park were obese.

The factors leading to obesity – poor diet and physical inactivity – are now the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. It is generally recommended that adults engage in moderate physical activities for at least 30 minutes on five or more days of the week. In West Rogers Park and Peterson Park, levels of both moderate and vigorous activity fell below recommended amounts of exercise. Approximately one-half of individuals participated in moderate activities and one-quarter in vigorous activities three or more times a week. These levels are both slightly higher than Chicago averages, but similar to those for the U.S.

SUHI is working with two pilot schools on physical fitness and nutrition programs and hopes to expand their reach to early childhood and senior citizen programs, synagogues and community centers and local restaurants and caterers.

“At Sinai Health System, our greatest achievement is that several community organizations are currently using studies like the Jewish Community Survey to implement grassroots programs in their neighborhoods -- programs aimed at increased health awareness,” said Alan Channing, Chief Executive Officer, Sinai Health System. “It is our goal that this survey will have a similar impact and mobilize this community to lead healthier lifestyles.”

Depression, Emotional Problems Also Reported

Mental health is as essential to overall health and well-being as physical health. In fact, depression is expected to be the second leading source of the global burden of disease by 2020.

In West Rogers Park and Peterson Park, over one-fifth (21%) of individuals reported having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life. This is slightly higher than recent national estimates, which find that lifetime depression is reported by 16% of adults. In addition, nearly as many adults screened positive for current depression (using the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale).

Overweight and obese individuals were significantly more likely to have a high number of depressive symptoms compared to normal or underweight individuals. Specifically, overweight and obese individuals were two to three times more likely to screen positive for depression compared to those who were normal or underweight.

Other Health-Related Behaviors and Experiences

The survey found that over half of adults had not been screened for genetic disorders. Even among those of child-bearing age, the majority of single adults and nearly one-third married adults had not been screened. In addition, many respondents were found to have financial limitations, unmet health care needs and other issues that could prevent them from achieving optimal levels of physical and emotional health.

Findings also indicate that levels of smoking, drinking and drug use were significantly lower than city and national estimates. Only 4% of respondents reported being current smokers, compared to 23% in Chicago and 22% in the U.S. Less than half of adults in West Rogers Park and Peterson Park currently drink alcohol, compared to 60% in Chicago and 59% in the U.S.. Only 4% of adults reported smoking marijuana in the past month, which is slightly less than city and national estimates.

For more than 80 years, the hospitals, physicians and staff of Sinai Health System have provided medical care and social services to Chicago’s neediest communities. Sinai today is a national model for urban health care, providing a full continuum of care – acute, primary, specialty and rehabilitation – to meet the needs of the communities and patients we serve. Sinai Urban Health Institute was founded in March 2000 with the belief that Sinai health System can best pursue its goals if activities are based upon data-driven evidence. SUHI has distinguished itself for conducting a series of groundbreaking community-based studies that are currently being used by several communities throughout Chicago to guide strategies for adopting healthier behaviors and creating models for eliminating health disparities. Sinai Health System also includes Mount Sinai Hospital, Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, Sinai Community Institute and the Sinai Medical Group.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago is Illinois’ largest social-service agency, funding Sinai Health System and other essential social welfare, education and relief programs for more than 300,000 Chicagoans of all faiths and 2 million Jews in Israel and worldwide.



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    Sinai Health System
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