Where North­west Ge­or­gians live longer — and where they don’t

Life ex­pectancy varies from county to county and, in­ter­nally, by neigh­bor­hood.

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Andy Miller Rome News-Tri­bune staff writer Diane Wag­ner con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Life ex­pectancy at a Cedar­town ad­dress, in a low-in­come sec­tion of Polk County, is 71.70 years.

Over in Aragon, it’s 72 years, but in a more af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hood in Rock­mart, it’s 78 years.

Such star­tling vari­a­tions com­monly ap­pear in new data that break down life ex­pectancy at birth — the av­er­age num­ber of years a per­son can ex­pect to live — for most of the cen­sus tracts in the United States, for the pe­riod from 2010 to 2015.

A cen­sus tract is an area roughly equal to a neigh­bor­hood.

We all have heard how life ex­pectancy can vary from na­tion to na­tion. But this is the first sta­tis­ti­cal in­for­ma­tion of its kind that speaks to how our health in the United States is in­flu­enced by con­di­tions in the lo­cal­i­ties where we live.

The data was col­lected through a joint ef­fort of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health Statis­tics at the CDC, the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Pub­lic Health In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems, and the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion, which funded the project.

“This is re­ally the first mea­sure of health at the neigh­bor­hood level,“said Abbey Cof­sky, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion, which also helps pro­duce health data by county in the County Health Rank­ings.

The data com­par­ing coun­ties, she noted, “can mask dif­fer­ences be­tween neigh­bor­hoods.” Even a mod­est-sized county can have great in­ter­nal di­ver­sity.

Polk County’s av­er­age life ex­pectancy is 73.53 years, com­pared to an av­er­age of 73.50 years in Chat­tooga, 75.80 years in Floyd, 75.73 years in Gor­don and 76.13 years in Bar­tow.

What’s the prob­lem? Or is there just one?

Life ex­pectancy has been drop­ping in the United States over the past cou­ple of years, though there is de­bate among ex­perts about ex­actly why. The opi­oid epi­demic may be a ma­jor rea­son for re­cent de­clines in Amer­i­cans’ life ex­pectancy, a new study said in Au­gust. Yet a se­cond study found ris­ing death rates among Amer­i­cans ages 25 to 64, but cited a num­ber of fac­tors as po­ten­tial causes, HealthDay re­ported.

Na­tion­ally, av­er­age life ex­pectancy at birth for the 65,662 cen­sus tracts stud­ied was 78.8 years. Ge­or­gia’s is slightly lower, at 77.4 years, ac­cord­ing to the ta­bles.

The re­port on neigh­bor­hoods, re­leased this week, said that peo­ple in Vin­ings, an af­flu­ent area just out­side the city of At­lanta, have the high­est av­er­age life ex­pectancy at birth in the state, at 87.6 years, while Ge­or­gians in Ma­con have the low­est av­er­age life ex­pectancy at birth for the state, at 63.3 years.

Fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing life ex­pectancy can in­clude ac­cess to sta­ble jobs, good ed­u­ca­tion, af­ford­able hous­ing and busi­ness in­vest­ment in a com­mu­nity, Cof­sky of the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion added. “Some neigh­bor­hoods can be cut off from op­por­tu­nity.“

Ar­eas with high poverty can lack ac­cess to healthy food, and may have safety prob­lems for res­i­dents, she said.

The life ex­pectancy data can spark a con­ver­sa­tion among stake­hold­ers and com­mu­nity lead­ers about po­ten­tial im­prove­ments, Cof­sky said.

The new re­source is ac­com­pa­nied by an in­ter­ac­tive tool that al­lows you to plug in your ZIP code or street ad­dress and see life ex­pectancy rates in your own neigh­bor­hood and how it com­pares to county- and state-level data, as well as the na­tional av­er­age.

Find­ing out who needs help

“Pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als have un­der­stood for a while that so­cial de­ter­mi­nants of health — the con­di­tions in which peo­ple are born, live, learn, work, and age — are pow­er­ful pre­dic­tors of one’s life op­por­tu­ni­ties and health out­comes, in­clud­ing life ex­pectancy,“said Dr. Harry Heiman, a health pol­icy ex­pert at Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity.

In At­lanta, Buck­head and Bankhead are only a few miles apart, but the dif­fer­ence in life ex­pectancy in the two neigh­bor­hoods is al­most 25 years, he said.

“Even in larger geo­graphic ar­eas whose health out­comes ap­pear to be good, it is crit­i­cal to as­sess dis­par­i­ties within the pop­u­la­tion or geo­graphic area, par­tic­u­larly for dis­ad­van­taged groups — those with higher dis­ease bur­dens, worse health out­comes, and shorter life ex­pectan­cies, “Heiman said.

The data should prompt a “call to ac­tion for state lead­ers and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to not only ad­dress the gaps in our health care sys­tem, es­pe­cially for low-in­come and ru­ral pop­u­la­tions, but to also ad­dress the up­stream, neigh­bor­hood-level so­cial de­ter­mi­nants crit­i­cal to im­prov­ing health and life op­por­tu­ni­ties.“

Tabia Ak­in­tobi, as­so­ciate dean for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment at More­house School of Medicine in At­lanta, said the data “al­low us to de­velop ap­proaches that are more tar­geted“to in­di­vid­ual neigh­bor­hoods “so we can tar­get lim­ited pub­lic health re­sources more eq­ui­tably.“

“In metro At­lanta and the broader state of Ge­or­gia, there are huge dif­fer­ences be­tween com­mu­ni­ties,“said Ak­in­tobi, who’s also prin­ci­pal re­searcher for the Preven­tion Re­search Cen­ter at More­house.

“These dif­fer­ences are not only re­lated to in­di­vid­ual be­hav­iors, but, more im­por­tantly, the po­lit­i­cal in­vest­ments, or lack thereof, in com­mu­ni­ties that re­sult in poorer hous­ing, lower com­mu­nity eco­nomic and work­force de­vel­op­ment and ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment,” she said. “All of these is­sues re­sult in the con­nec­tion be­tween where peo­ple live and how healthy they are.“

In­vest­ment in neigh­bor­hoods with poor health out­comes is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to ad­dress health dis­par­i­ties and ad­vanc­ing health eq­uity, Ak­in­tobi said, and re­quires strong al­liances with busi­nesses.

Pol­icy ex­perts, re­searchers, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, com­mu­nity lead­ers and busi­nesses and health care providers are all crit­i­cal “to cre­at­ing this cul­ture of health that is a re­turn on in­vest­ment for all,“she said.

Link to the life ex­pectancy search tool:

https://www.rwjf.org/en/li­brary/in­ter­ac­tives/wherey­ouliveaf­fect­show­longy­oulive. html

/ Con­trib­uted by the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau

The above data shows the av­er­age life­span based on the lat­est data from the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau for how long the av­er­age per­son lives in Polk County, the State of Ge­or­gia and the United States over­all.

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