Mapping Mecklenburg

Five maps that show stark health disparities in Mecklenburg County

Dr. Jeffrey Kline, MD, director of research for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center, wheels a device used for breath-based management of pulmonary embolism in the emergency department at CMC.

Sharp differences in race and income are visible on a map of Mecklenburg County, generally in the familiar “crescent and wedge” pattern many Charlotteans are familiar with. 

For example, check out the divisions on this map of household income:

But differences are also available in other, more unexpected dimensions as well. These five maps illustrate some of the biggest disparities: In people’s health, which often correlates to other characteristics such as race, income and education level.  

Age of death

Countywide, the average age of death is just over 71. But that varies greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. In some areas, largely in the wealthier southeast “pie slice” of the county, average age of death tends to in the upper 70s or even 80s. In other areas, particularly the lower-income neighborhoods north, west and east of uptown, the average age of death is far lower: In the 60s or even 50s. 

Low birth weight

Across Mecklenburg, just over 9 percent of babies are born at a low weight, defined as less than 5 lbs 8 oz. While some areas have low single-digit rates of undersized babies, in other parts of the county more than one in four babies have a low birthweight. Low birthweight can be caused by premature birth, poor maternal health or lacking prenatal healthcare. Young adolescents, mothers over 35 and African-American women are also more likely to have babies with low birthweight, according to the CDC. 

Proximity to outdoor recreation

Mecklenburg scores poorly on national rankings of park space and spending per capita. Countywide, about 54 percent of housing units are within a half-mile of an outdoor, public recreation area. In a twist, the close-in neighborhoods score higher on this metric, with most at or near 100 percent. Farther-flung parts of the county, where parks are scarcer or might be larger, regional parks, score much lower. Lack of access to outdoor recreation can be a risk factor for a sedentary lifestyle and associated problems, such as obesity. 

This metric doesn’t include private outdoor recreation facilities, like pool clubs.

Public health insurance

Fifteen percent of people in the county receive Medicaid or N.C. Health Choice care. The heaviest rates of usage are west, north and east of uptown, with much lower usage in other areas. 

Proximity to low-cost health care

About 18 percent of the county’s housing units are within a half-mile of a Medicaid provider or a free clinic. What’s most interesting about the pattern, however, is that it doesn’t align very closely with where the highest percentage of public health recipients live. That suggests that many of them - who are more likely to be dependent on transit or not own a car - have to travel farther to access care.