Your Neighborhood Can Determine Baby’s Life Expectancy

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By Emily Windram, Intern
Updated March 2, 2017
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You want baby to live a long and happy life. And a few miles can make all the difference, according to a series of maps released by the  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The nonprofit organization researched average life expectancies by neighborhood in a number of US cities. The title of the project, “Short Distances to Large Gaps in Health,” says it all; within each city, neighboring areas experience very different life expectancies — with gaps up to two decades.

One of the most shocking reveals is in Richmond, Virginia, where a baby born in Gilpin has a life expectancy 20 years lower than a baby born just five miles away in Westover Hills. Urban Chicago has a 16-year gap, while New York sees a nine-year difference between a baby born in Midtown Manhattan and a baby born in East Harlem.

In 2013, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a health policy brief that covered the major factors that affect life expectancy and general health status, such as race, gender, education and zip code. These factors “should not make a difference,” RWJF states clearly, but acknowledges that “where we live, learn, and work defines — to a surprisingly high degree — our health.”

“Our goal is to help local officials, residents, and others understand that there’s more to health than merely health care, and that improving health requires having a broad range of players at the table." says Derek Chapman, PhD, associate director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health. These “players” include factors like access to education, nutritious food, health care options, social services and more.

If we do manage to bump up baby’s average life expectancy in the future — some scientists believe we could reach an average of 100 years old—  we need to be proactive, RWJF urges. To follow the discussion on how to improve the future, follow their Twitter hashtag #CloseHealthGaps.

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