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How Your Life Expectancy Depends On Your Neighborhood In Miami

Researchers mapped life expectancies to neighborhoods
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Your life expectancy depends a lot on where you live—down to the very neighborhood, according to a new analysis from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Researchers mapped life expectancies to neighborhoods
Credit VCU and RWJF
The Florida Channel
Researchers mapped life expectancies to neighborhoods

The distance between Downtown Miami and the city’s Overtown neighborhood is about a mile. The difference between life expectancies in those two places? Fifteen years.

Overtown residents can expect to live to 71—the shortest life expectancy found in Miami by the new study, which mapped mortality data to zip codes.

You can hear the story and learn more about how the city is launching a mobile clinic program here:

Miami is one of 20 places the researchers are mapping this way. Derek Chapman, associate director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health, worked on the study and spoke with Health News Florida about the analysis:

  • HNF: One of the really striking things about this map is the difference between Downtown and Overtown. What do you see when you see that?

Chapman: This project is just computing life expectancy, but in other studies when we delved in—and I think you know just from living in the area—there is rather striking differences in both poverty and access to resources, access to healthy foods and things like that.

These are really complex problems, but the first step is to recognize that these large gaps exists and where.

And then the next step is to continue this dialogue by having a broad range of players at the table, including multiple government agencies covering a broad set of areas. And that means not just the health department, but also education, jobs, transportation, the business community, nonprofit groups and community members to really delve into seeing what are the needs of members in this community facing these challenges.

  • You publish this, then it gets into the hands of people in a position to make policy—what should the next move be?

These maps are intended to raise awareness about this issue and serve as conversation starters—particularly as outreach to those other sectors.

In government, we're pretty structured in silos where we have one department that handles health and one that handles education and one that handles transportation.

But in in the real world,  people face challenges across all of these areas. In real life, people face challenges with food and finding jobs and having access to health care and having a good education for their kids and having safe places to walk and exercise.

So that's what really the message is: that the next step is to use these maps to really raise awareness about how these place-based neighborhood factors all have a really complex and interrelated impact on health.

  • For the people who live in these neighborhoods that have some of the lower numbers, what do you want them to take away from that?

We tend to go straight to individual risk behaviors and health care access as the two things that shape health. And so that often leads to blaming individuals who live in areas that don't have great health.

But while certainly your individual behaviors are important, and when you're sick certainly access to health care is important, those individual behaviors interact with policies to influence your health.

So, for example, something like obesity: obesity increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and premature mortality through a lot of different pathways. Certainly your diet and exercise is important…. Your diet is affected by your access to information. How much information you have about what constitutes a healthy diet is affected by your availability of money to purchase a higher quality food and more fruits and vegetables. And even your access to those types of foods in your neighborhood, your ability to have transportation to get to those stores. Exercise is also critically important and related to obesity, but your ability to exercise is related to neighborhood safety. And some places, it is not a safe neighborhood to be out walking in, jogging after work.

The message is really that individual behaviors in health care are important, but they all occur within the context of an environment. And those are things beyond people's control. Those are things that we need to address really from a policy perspective to make healthier and safer communities. 

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Sammy Mack
Public radio. Public health. Public policy.