by Jen Jenkins
Geography matters for the poor when it comes to life expectancy rates in the United States. While the rich live longer regardless of where they live, in some parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes have lifespans that match that of people in much poorer nations around the world. However, in some large cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as a few smaller cities, the poor are living as long as the middle-class and are seeing rising life expectancy. New research shows that improving habits and public health can help people live longer regardless of income. This New York Times article discusses the new research published this month in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to Stanford economist Raj Chetty, who is the above-mentioned study’s lead author, “You want to think about this problem at a more local level than you might have before. You don’t want to just think about why things are going badly for the poor in America. You want to think specifically about why they’re going poorly in Tulsa and Detroit.” Adopting local policies to help the poor maintain healthier habits may succeed in extending lifespans despite what the future may bring as far as income inequality. The New York Times article states:
It could be as simple as this: Wealth buys higher-quality medical care, which allows people to live into old age. But a long line of evidence, including the new work, suggests it’s less obvious than it might seem. The affluent seem to live in healthier ways. They exercise more, smoke less, feel less stress and are less likely to be obese.
Quality medical care is important and carries a high value but research has long established that behavioral factors, such as smoking or exercising, have a larger effect on life span than health care interventions.
It is important to know that poor Americans are living longer in some places in the country but it’s even more important to understand how these places are making that possible. For example, in Jefferson county, Alabama, the chief executive of the health department, Mark E. Wilson, believes that the following measures have helped to raise the lifespan in that area: expanding availability of preventative health care, allocating local taxes to hospital care for those that cannot afford to pay, banning smoking in restaurants and workplaces, and establishing philanthropic foundations to fund campaigns to make people in the area healthier. “These aren’t all huge-scale projects, but there is still an alignment of getting resources moving in the same direction around health,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re trying to establish a culture of health and get it more and more on the radar screen of our community.”
Establishing a “culture of health” in our communities to help make people healthier regardless of income – could this be a factor that helps to positively effect the radical gap in longevity between income levels in this country?
Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section!