Let's get to the facts on health in Waco

I recently wrote a grant application for federal funds from the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The grant centers around racial and ethnic health disparities across communities. Because I believe we all need reminders of this disparity from time to time, here are some of the facts we noted in the grant application:


Like all cities, Waco has a history of socioeconomic disparities between its neighborhoods. Redlining maps going back to the 1930s show encouragement to invest in property in North and West Waco, with disincentive to invest in East and South Waco, areas that were deemed “unsafe” or “declining.” Not coincidentally, these neighborhoods were also the places where most of Waco’s Black population lived and continues to live. The legacy of these decisions remains to this day.


According to 2019 data from the American Communities Survey, about 21% of Waco’s residents are Black. Over 60% of the residents in the two prominent East Waco census tracts (tracts 14 and 15) are African American, while African Americans make up less than 10% of many of the census tracts in North and West Waco (tracts 26, 25.03, 37.07, and 41.03). Also according to 2019 ACS data, about 32% of Waco’s population is Hispanic. While Waco’s Latino population is more spread out than its Black population, there are two census tracts that are more than 65% Hispanic (tracts 27 and 5.98).


Health disparities across these Waco neighborhoods are vast. For example, the following outcomes as found on the City Health Dashboard highlight ongoing inequities:

  • Life expectancy – According to the 2015 U.S. Small-area Life Expectancy Estimates Project (USALEEP) of the National Center for Health Statistics, the average life expectancy for residents of Waco is 77. However, there is an approximately 10-15 year gap between East and West Waco. In East Waco, it is 70-71, while the life expectancy in much of West Waco is over 80.

  • Diabetes – According to 2018 data from the PLACES project of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 12.5% of residents in Waco report having been told they have diabetes. In the majority-Black East Waco tracts, the figure is over 21%; in the predominantly Hispanic tracts, the number is over 16%; while in the predominantly White West Waco tracts, the number is lower than 12%.

  • Frequent mental distress – Also according to 2018 data from the PLACES project of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 17.5% of Waco residents report experiencing poor mental health for 14 or more days in the past month. In the majority-Black East Waco tracts, the figure is over 19%; in the predominantly Hispanic tracts, the number is over 18%; while in the predominantly White West Waco tracts, the number is lower than 12%.

  • Frequent physical distress – The same dataset also asks about the respondent’s physical distress. 14.7% of Waco residents report recent physical distress, while over 20% of East Waco’s predominantly Black population report this distress. The predominantly Hispaic tracts have more than 19% of respondents reporting physical distress, while less than 12% of West Waco’s predominantly White population reports the same.

  • Obesity – The 2018 CDC PLACES data lists the obesity rate of Waco at 38.2%. In the predominantly Black areas, the percentages are over 48%, in the predominantly Hispanic areas, the number is greater than 43%, and the predominantly White areas of West Waco have obesity rates below 32%.

  • Percent with health insurance – Data from the 2019 American Community Survey shows that 84.5% of Waco’s residents have health insurance coverage. In the predominantly Black and Hispanic census tracts, less than 80% have health insurance, while over 90% of those in West Waco have health insurance.

Jeremy Rhodes, Ph.D., is director of research and community impact for Prosper Waco.