Updated on July 29, 2020 at 11:00am EST.

Rural parts of the United States with higher percentages of Black populations are associated with reduced access to healthcare, decreased economic stability and worse health outcomes, including obesity, according to the winning submission of Sharecare’s April 2020 hack-a-thon. These findings suggest that racial inequities persist in southern states and also nationally.

“What the hackathon submissions revealed, in the depth and breadth of their approaches, analyses, and solutions, is that place matters,” says Michael Rickles, Executive Director of Research Strategy at Sharecare, “The results for North Carolinians differed from the national rankings, revealing the strengths inherent in the more focal approach of this exercise.”     

Examining well-being trends

More than 100 students from the University of North Carolina (UNC) from nearly 30 different academic disciplines spent a weekend studying and deciphering national well-being trends as well as data specific to North Carolina using Sharecare’s Community Well-Being Index.

With more than three million surveys completed between 2008 and 2020 in the United States and around the world, Sharecare Community Well-being Index has become the definitive measure of well-being in communities, states and across populations. 

The students combined information from the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index with other datasets, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Agriculture, North Carolina Institute of Medicine and North Carolina Division of Public Health. 

Critical insights revealed

After analyzing information across well-being and social determinant factors from obesity risk and access to food and healthcare to COVID-19 cases and incidence rates, the students uncovered critical insights on public health issues in their backyard and across the United States.

The winning student submission found that counties with significant racial disparities were correlated with reduced access to healthcare, decreased economic stability, and worse health outcomes.

In addition to highlighting public health disparities across two potentially at-risk populations, the winning submission also found that some rural areas in North Carolina saw high levels of well-being despite having low levels of economic stability. This suggests there are potential opportunities to learn from areas where people are facing negative social determinants and financial hardships but still managing to thrive.

The hack-a-thon revealed that some of the most critical social determinant factors associated with physical well-being include home-to-income ratio, percentage with second mortgages, English proficiency, and civic engagement, or voting in presidential and congressional elections. 

Another top submission identified another data-supported link between economic stability and longevity. The students found that “Sharecare’s Economic SDOH [social determinants of health] variables have an outsized effect on health outcomes such as all-cause mortality in North Carolina and nationwide.”

Amid the pandemic, the hack-a-thon revealed that higher levels of Sharecare’s healthcare access variable coincided with lower COVID-19 case rates. 

The second and third place submissions focused on food insecurity in North Carolina—a state known for its agricultural abundance. The UNC students found that 14 percent of North Carolina residents were considered food insecure—even though North Carolina is one of the top agriculture-producing states in the county. Among the proposed strategies to address this discrepancy were leveraging community resources to support produce redistribution and advancing population health and well-being thorugh the inclusion of baseline financial support infrastructure in healthcare systems and care delivery models.

Focusing on solutions

The students also identified data-driven solutions for some of the public health risks that were uncovered, including the need for health and healthcare equity across all populations, targeted SDOH interventions designed to improve physical health, and greater engagement among city planners in public transit.

“We are very interested in talking about the actionable next steps that the students in this competition identified with key stakeholders in North Carolina,” notes Rickles. “Pairing the CWBI data with outcomes metrics to hone in on specific, relevant aspects of a community, can translate in to discussions and policy change at a local level. This is exactly how we want to engage with communities using this information.      

The students involved in Sharecare’s April hack-a thon competed on behalf of non-profits. The winning teams donated to Legal Aid of North Carolina and Farmer Foodshare.

For additional details on the student hack-a-thon, insights, and outcomes, please reach out to CWBI@sharecare.com. More information on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, can also be found here

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