Quantcast
Health
Shoppers browsing vegetables at a farmers market. Pixabay

For Your Health, Where You Live Plays a Powerful Role

By Jessica Young

According to a recent report, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia have the worst health in the U.S. These states have higher rates of premature deaths, chronic diseases and poor health behaviors year after year.

Why are people in some places in the U.S. consistently less healthy than those in others? If you look to health and fitness magazines, it may seem like poor diet, lack of exercise and other bad behaviors are to blame. Genetics and access to health care are also commonly cited reasons for why some people are healthier than others.


But where a person lives, works and plays also matters. As a public health researcher interested in how society affects our health, my research shows where you live plays a powerful role on your health.

Economic Distress

Public health experts often talk about the "social determinants of health": community traits like housing quality, access to nutritious and fresh food, water and air quality, education quality and employment opportunities. These factors are thought to be among the most powerful influences on a person's health.

Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia also share a similar economic environment. Data from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a bipartisan public policy organization in Washington, DC, shows that these states are the top five most economically distressed states in the U.S.

In fact, Alabama and Mississippi have the highest shares of people living in distressed zip codes.

The U.S. has experienced economic prosperity since the end of the Great Recession. But not all states have shared equally in this economic growth. In North Dakota, for example, employment rates increased almost 20 percent between 2010 and 2013. During the same time period, residents in Alabama have seen only about four percent growth in employment.

Local communities in every state across the U.S. face similar poor economic realities: 52.3 million Americans live in economically distressed zip codes. This means that about 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in places with limited opportunities for education, good housing and employment. These factors are essential for good health.

Prosperous zip codes tend to have social resources that distressed zip codes do not, like access to fresh and nutritious foods, cleaner air and high-quality schools.

Place and Health

Analysts at the Economic Innovation Group found that people in prosperous counties live, on average, five years longer than those living in distressed counties. In distressed counties, deaths from mental and substance abuse are 64 percent higher compared to prosperous counties.

My own analysis of EIG data and the 2017 County Health Rankings follows this pattern. The more economically distressed a county is, the worse their health outcomes are. This is true across measures of clinical care, quality of life, mortality, chronic conditions, health behaviors and health environments.

I am currently researching a range of health outcomes across the U.S. My unpublished results show that infants are about 20 percent more likely to die before their first birthday in distressed counties. Adults in distressed counties are 18 percent more likely to report poor or fair health than those in prosperous counties.

Those in distressed counties are also more likely to live in places with fewer resources for good health. For example, distressed counties are 26 percent more likely to have limited access to healthy foods and have about 24 percent fewer opportunities for exercise. They also have about 20 percent fewer primary care providers than prosperous counties.

Investing in Solutions

Shared economic prosperity is good for our health and good for the economy.

Improving population health requires more than changing health behaviors or increasing health care access. Similarly, if we want to increase shared economic prosperity among those who need it most, we need to focus on more than employment rates and average incomes.

As public health researcher David Williams and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Executive Vice President James Marks wrote, "reaching America's full health potential will require that targeted initiatives have a dual focus" on health and community economic development. This means that the health and economic sectors must collaborate, which is often made difficult by separate funding streams and political battles.

Despite challenges, there are successful examples of communities working together to improve health and foster economic opportunity. In Sacramento, California, the Building Healthy Communities program worked with community members to develop bike paths and expand community gardens. This effort was a part of an initiative to transform formerly contaminated land into healthy, livable and usable property.

More investments in the social determinants of health will help close the health gaps we see across the U.S.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon, seen here speaking to the press about the Flint water crisis in 2016, will be the highest ranking official to stand trial over the public health disaster. Brett Carlsen / Getty Images

Judge Orders Michigan Health Director to Face Trial Over Flint Water Crisis Deaths

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon will be the highest ranking official to go to trial so far as a result of an investigation into the Flint water crisis, The Associated Press reported Monday.

Judge David Goggins ruled Monday there was probable cause for Lyon to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Robert Skidmore and John Snyder that prosecutors say were due to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that Lyon was aware of a year before he alerted Michigan's governor, Michigan Live reported. Lyons is also charged with misconduct in office.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Coal-fired power plant near Becker, Minnesota. Tony Webster / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trump's 'Dirty Power Plan' Could Cost More Than 1,000 Lives a Year

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Tuesday its long-anticipated replacement of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new coal pollution rules will increase planet-warming carbon pollution and could cost more than a thousand American lives each year, according to the EPA's own estimates.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler released the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule" today under President Trump's directive. The new plan encourages efficiency improvements at existing coal plants to ensure they operate longer and allows states to weaken, or even eliminate, coal emissions standards. That's a clear difference from former President Obama's plan, which was aimed at phasing out coal and transitioning to cleaner power sources to avoid dangerous climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Two workers in protective gear scrape asbestos tile and mastic from a facility at Naval Base Point Loma in California. NAVFAC / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Why Asbestos Is Still a Major Public Health Threat in the U.S.

Reports surfaced this month that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had proposed a significant new use rule (SNUR) for asbestos in June, requiring anyone who wanted to start or resume importing or manufacturing the carcinogenic mineral to first receive EPA approval.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Rklfoto / Getty Images

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Wants to End EPA’s Cruel Animal Testing

By Justin Goodman and Nathan Herschler

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its "questionable" and "dubious" animal tests. The lawmakers' demand for information on "horrific and inhumane" animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Wikimedia Commons

Strongest, Oldest Arctic Sea Ice Breaks Up for First Time on Record

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and now the region's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Climate Justice Edmonton

These Giant Portraits Will Stand in the Path of Trans Mountain Pipeline

By Andrea Germanos

To put forth a "hopeful vision for the future" that includes bold climate action, a new installation project is to be erected along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route to harnesses art's ability to be a force for social change and highlight the fossil fuel project's increased threats to indigenous rights and a safe climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
A worker inspects recycled plastic in a plastics factory. Getty Images

The Plastic Waste Crisis Is an Opportunity to Get Serious About Recycling

By Kate O'Neill

A global plastic waste crisis is building, with major implications for health and the environment. Under its so-called "National Sword" policy, China has sharply reduced imports of foreign scrap materials. As a result, piles of plastic waste are building up in ports and recycling facilities across the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Aaron Teasdale

The One Thing Better Than Summer Skiing

By Aaron Teasdale

"There's snow up here, I promise," I assure my son Jonah, as we grunt up a south-facing mountainside in Glacier National Park in July. A mountain goat cocks its head as if to say, "What kind of crazy people hike up bare mountains in ski boots?" He's not the only one to wonder what in the name of Bode Miller we're doing up here with ski gear.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!