It might not come as a surprise that where you live affects your wellness — but your zip code’s impact on your health and wellbeing may be even greater than you think. Following a recent study, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that, in neighborhoods just a few miles apart, life expectancy can vary by up to 30 years.
The Midwest is no stranger to such disparities. Over the last decade, Indiana has struggled to improve its low health and wellness rankings. While unhealthy habits and poor genetics may play a part, citing these factors alone is entirely too simplistic.
Poverty, pollution, urban design, weather conditions, and access to social resources are some of the lesser-known factors contributing to vast discrepancies in life expectancy. For your own wellness, it’s critical to understand the circumstances that allow someone to live longer, as well as those that cut a person’s life short.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make more informed decisions about your future. But where you decide to live is only the beginning. Healthcare is set to be one of the biggest issues of the 2020 election, and understanding the factors affecting wellness may influence your political views.
It’s been proven that areas of the country with lower life expectancy have greater numbers of people with low incomes, and often, those same people didn’t finish college and don’t have health insurance. Since 2008, Indiana has seen annual decreases in the rate of those with health insurance.
In Delaware County, for example, according to the Economic Innovation Group, the average life expectancy is 77 years. That’s 2.1 years below the national average. The poverty rate is 22%, compared to a national poverty rate of 15.5%. Meanwhile, Hamilton County, one of Indiana’s most affluent counties, boasts an average life expectancy of 81.8 years. The poverty rate is just 4.7%.
Because of statistics like these, many voices are raising awareness about the numerous ways poverty affects health and wellness. In areas of the country with higher unemployment, the life expectancy is generally lower. People living in such areas are at a higher risk for premature death and chronic diseases.
Poor Urban Design
Income inequality may be an obvious culprit, but people often overlook the impact the design of a city has on their health. Living in a denser city is frequently associated with higher levels of happiness and better health — unlike sprawling cities, which force people to drive, denser cities make walking viable transportation.
In addition to being the healthier option, walking is often the safer option — especially in parts of the country (like Indiana) that experience harsh winters. Even the most careful drivers get into accidents on icy, snow-covered roads. Furthermore, drunk driving is more prevalent in unwalkable areas.
Urban designs that include bike lanes and green spaces make a city more accessible, for example, and better connectedness positively impacts residents’ health both physically and mentally. In broad suburbs, people are more likely to experience social isolation, which a Toronto Public Health study linked to suicide. A sense of community, which is more readily available in denser cities, is essential to your wellness.
Inaccessible Social Resources
Beyond substantial density, the country’s healthiest metro areas exhibit greater diversity and a proclivity for innovative industry. Meanwhile, according to the Forbes article sourced above, the Midwest has a long history of depending on older manufacturing industries, which is frequently associated with poorer health.
Areas with higher concentrations of the creative class are also more likely to be healthier. These areas are also more likely to have institutions of higher education, quality living accommodations, and better-paying jobs.
Unfortunately, approximately 17% of the U.S. population lives in areas with limited opportunities for education, good housing, and employment. People living in distressed zip codes tend to not have access to social resources such as healthy food, clean air, and high-quality education.
According to the Economic Innovation Group, 49.2% of Delaware County residents live in distressed zip codes. Just 6.1% of residents live in prosperous zip codes.
Fewer Primary Care Providers
In distressed zip codes, people have less access to primary care providers. In states with especially high STD rates, this poses a major public health risk. When a sexually transmitted disease goes undiagnosed and untreated, it can affect overall wellness and life expectancy.
With less access to primary care providers and healthy food, children living in distressed zip codes are more susceptible to childhood obesity, which continues on the rise across the country for a number of reasons. In states experiencing rising rates of obesity, like Indiana is, prevention starts during pregnancy. Expectant mothers — even those with infrequent access to primary care providers — can lower their child’s chance of obesity through a combination of holistic health practices such as exercise, meditation, and prioritizing sleep.
Including greater access to primary care providers, Harvard’s Dr. S V Subramanian believes affordable, comprehensive health care could help reduce the disparities in life expectancy and overall wellness. Such a policy change could greatly improve the lives of Indiana residents. But for now, where you live continues to impact your health.