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Should Your Zip Code Determine How Long You Live?
Gail Christopher
February 14, 2013

Deborah Lewis is a licensed social worker serving court-referred elderly clients in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Her work takes her to two hospitals, each in different zip codes in the city. She recently sat in the outpatient waiting area in the two different hospitals within a 48-hour period.

She was shocked and dismayed by the stark contrasts in the "health" of the populations at each location.

The predominately middle-class, largely white, elderly outpatients at one hospital were walking without walkers. Most were clearly there for wellness and prevention services.

Across town in the largest hospital serving African-Americans and Latinos, Deborah recalled being overwhelmed by the high levels of debilitation among these outpatients -- wheelchairs, walkers, canes were the norm, not the exception. Most of these patients were struggling to manage chronic diseases.

It was for her, an African-American professional and a baby boomer, a painful reminder that where you live in America makes a significant difference in your risk for illness and premature death.

Here in the United States, a zip code can tell us a lot about how well and how long you'll live. So can census tracts. Most people are stunned to hear the differences:

  • In Bernalillo County, N.M., home to Albuquerque, people in some census tracts live an average of 22 years less than those in other some tracts.
  • In Boston, the difference in life expectancy by census tracts is 33 years.
  • In Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, the difference is 18 years. (These figures come from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies' Place Matters reports.)

What's behind these differences in life expectancy? Disparities in neighborhood conditions. Our history of residential segregation has concentrated not just certain communities (typically communities of color), but also poverty.


Read more at The Huffington Post.

News Topics

  • Health Disparities
  • Health Equity
  • Health Issues & Factors
  • Place Matters

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