2021 California Health Interview Survey data reveals health equity gaps

A new report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research highlights the impact of the 2021 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) results, the nation’s largest state health survey. The report provides an overview of how many times 2021 CHIS data was used in publications and cited in news stories, as well as how many times the data was accessed through the portal this year.

 

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The report notes that the October 2022 release of CHIS 2021 data included responses from 25,415 households. The data was cited in nearly 100 publications, such as peer-reviewed journal articles, policy briefs, and government reports in 2022, and more than 90,000 queries were run in the data portal. 

Todd Hughes, Director of the CHIS and Ninez A. Ponce, PhD, Center Director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and Principal Investigator of the CHIS, emphasized the importance of this data in developing policies to advance health equity in the state.

“We study the past and present to understand how to shape the future of health. Whether a researcher or advocate, a legislator or journalist, we all need credible information to do that work and the right tools to access it,” they state in the report. “We are archaeologists, digging for past and current data, analysts seeking to make sense of it, and builders hoping to use it to create a more equitable world.”

The data reveals key findings from health trends observed across the state in 2021. In particular, the 2021 survey results reveal mental health and financial challenges stemming from the pandemic.

According to the data, in 2021, 30.5% of 18-to-24-year-olds in California reported having contemplated suicide at some point in their lives, compared to 23.9% in 2020. This represents a significant increase from several years ago, where this number was 14.1%.

The data also shows that 36.7% of survey respondents aged 13 to 17 said they needed help for emotional or mental health problems in 2021, but 26.2% of them did not receive any counseling. 

“There is an urgent need for resources that will aid Californians through a crisis that’s dramatically affecting people’s mental health,” Ponce said about the data in a statement. “Our findings show that more people are experiencing serious psychological distress, more people are in need of professional help and more people are reporting moderate or severe impairment in their work, social lives, relationships and daily activities. Our hope is that these data will be used by policymakers and the public to help improve the Californians’ health.”

The data also reveals key findings regarding state trends in adverse childhood experiences, access to care, food insecurity, and housing instability. 

According to the data, 67.3% of California adults reported having at least one adverse childhood experience, and 21.2% of adults reported having experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences. 

Of the adults that experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences, 32.3% had serious psychological distress in 2021, compared to 7.8% of adults who had serious psychological distress but had not experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences.

The data also shows that Black or African American adults and American Indian and Alaska Native adults were disproportionately represented in adverse childhood experiences, with over 77% of Black or African American adults and over 90% of American Indian and Alaska Native adults saying they had one or more adverse childhood experiences, compared to 67.2% of all Californians. 

Regarding access to care, the survey data revealed that over 27% of Californians who had delayed or did not receive necessary medical care cited COVID-19 as the main reason why, and 27.5% cited cost or lack of insurance. According to the data, the pandemic resulted in 33.4% of people having trouble paying for necessities.

With food insecurity, the survey data revealed that 39% of California adults earning under 200% of the federal poverty level reported that they were not able to afford enough food in 2021, with Black or African American adults having the highest rate. Almost half of California immigrant adults were not able to afford enough food compared to 39% of US born citizens. 

Regarding housing instability, 4.7% of California adults reported feeling unstable and insecure in their current housing situation in 2021, and adults with poor overall health were five times more likely to feel unstable and insecure in their current housing situation than those with excellent health. 

“As the largest and most diverse state, California is often looked at as a model that strives toward health equity,” Hughes said about the data. “However, the data show there is still a need to address some of the inequities in California that have been magnified since the start of the pandemic.”