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
Animals
Dolphin found with a bullet wound in California's Manhattan Beach. Marine Animal Rescue / Facebook

'Senseless Killing': Dolphin Found Shot Dead on California Beach

How could anyone shoot a dolphin? A dolphin that washed up dead in Manhattan Beach, California died from a bullet wound, according to local animal rescue workers.

Earlier this month, Peter Wallerstein, the founder of Marine Animal Rescue, responded to a call about a stranded dolphin on the surf, according to NBC News. By the time he arrived at the scene, the marine mammal was dead.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
A critically endangered Javan rhino in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park. Robin Moore / Global Wildlife Conservation

See Stunning Footage of World's Most Threatened Rhino

With only 68 individuals left on the planet, the Javan rhino is the world's most threatened rhino species.

So you can image the surprise when a team from Global Wildlife Conservation and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) saw one of these incredible creatures wallowing in the mud in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Park, the only place on Earth where these critically endangered species are found.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Laurie and Charles / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Turkeys: Who Are They, and Why Should We Care?

By Karen Davis

We adopted Amelia as a young turkey into our sanctuary from a local farmer. She lived with us for five years until her legs gave out, and we had to call our veterinarian to put her to rest, surrounded by her friends in the yard. Until then she hung out happily with the chickens and ducks, and when people visited, she'd fan out her white tail feathers and stroll amiably beside them.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses a rally held to call on Sen. Jeff Flake to reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe / Getty Images

Khanna to Pelosi: Don't Just Create Green New Deal Select Committee, Make Ocasio-Cortez Its Chair

By Jon Queally

As the debate within the new House Democratic caucus continues to grow over the demand to create a New Green Deal select committee, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) came out on Saturday to say that not only should Nancy Pelosi create such a committee, she should appoint newly-elected New York freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to be its chairperson.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Foxys_forest_manufacture / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Awareness of Food Waste Can Help Us Appreciate Holiday Meals

By Bryce Hannibal

Americans celebrate the winter holidays in many ways, which typically include an abundance of food, drinks, desserts—and waste. Food waste is receiving increasing attention from managers, activists, policymakers and scholars, who call it a global social problem. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, wealthy nations waste nearly as much food every year as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.

Efforts to reduce food waste tend to focus on consumption practices, with less attention to the production and distribution side. But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a large proportion of food loss and waste in the U.S. occurs at the farm-to-retail level, with about 133 billion pounds of food available at retailers going uneaten.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
The SeaRose FPSO and offshore support vessels. Berardo62 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

250,000 Liters of Crude Spills off Newfoundland Coast

An estimated 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of crude spilled from the SeaRose FPSO, a floating production, storage and offloading vessel, in the White Rose oil and gas field off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Husky Energy, the operator responsible, said the spill happened on Friday when the SeaRose FPSO "experienced a loss of pressure" in an oil flowline, according to the Canadian Press.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
Trump speaks while Wheeler stands by at the White House State Leadership Day Conference for Alaska, California and Hawaii in October. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Trump Wants Coal-Friendly Wheeler to Run the EPA Permanently

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he would nominate former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler to permanently run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CNN reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Protestors block traffic on Westminster Bridge, demanding urgent action on climate change. Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

6,000 Climate Activists Block 5 London Bridges, Demand Urgent Action

On Saturday, More than 6,000 climate activists shut down five bridges in Central London. The protest, organized under the banner of Extinction Rebellion to call for urgent action on climate change, was the first to intentionally block the bridges "in living memory," the group reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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