Focusing a Place-Based Lens on America's Health Disparities

In the U.S., were used to comparing our life expectancies with other countries, says Emily Badger, but in many cities one only needs to travel a mile to see decades of difference in average life spans. Stark new maps make these discrepancies clear.
July 17, 2013, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has produced a series of stunning maps that highlight the differences in life expectancies from one neighborhood to the next in select American cities. For David Fleming, the public health director and health officer for Seattle and King County, the lesson gleaned from these maps is that "[w]e need to think about the differences between adjacent neighborhoods the way we currently think about the differences between America and Haiti," explains Badger.

"It’s no mystery about why life expectancy is low in some areas," Fleming says. "Lots of factors influence health. The striking thing is that most of these factors we’re talking about intensely cluster geographically in the same places. Places with low life expectancy are the same places that have high infant mortality rates, high rates of asthma, high rates of obesity."

"They're the same places that have few healthy food options, or no sidewalks to encourage walking, or less safety at night, or even greater rates of environmental pollution," adds Badger. "This suggests the real public health challenge, as we've written before, is as much about place as it is about people. And that means the solutions should be about place, too."

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Published on Monday, July 15, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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