Where you live can have a profound impact on how you live. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), your zip code is more important than your genetic code when it comes to deter- mining your overall health.
Research continues to prove this point. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that inequalities in life expectancy among counties are large and growing. There could be as much as a 20-year gap between counties in terms of how long a person is expected to live. Much of that variation can be explained by what’s called social determinants of health—factors outside the doctor’s office that impact the health of a community, which can include everything from local crime rates, walkability scores and access to fruits and vegetables.
Local communities have the power to impact the health of the people that live in them. That’s why the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge – a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties – was launched, and is aimed at empowering small to mid- size cities and counties in the U.S. to create a positive health impacts.
Fifty cities and counties have accepted the Challenge, and have begun or expanded their work to improve social determinants of health and make meaningful improvements in the health of their community.
“We understand that where you live has a profound impact on how you live,”said Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation.“The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge is empowering each city and county to tackle the underlying social determinants of health in a way that can be scaled and adopted by other communities facing similar issues. These factors are known to disproportion- ally impact African-American communities. It’s part of our work to build a healthier world, community by community.”
Here are some of the issues the Challenge is tackling that are of particular importance to the African-American community
- Heart disease. Heart disease is the number one cause of death for African-Americans (CDC, 2017). The Greater Lawrence Healthy Families Healthy Children Initiative in Lawrence, IN is creating healthy environments to help residents achieve and maintain a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle. The initiative is providing the lower income community with resources to make healthy choices easy choices, regardless of socioeconomic status. Among the efforts is the establishment of the Lawrence Community Garden, which provides free and fresh produce to food pantries and residents in one of America’s largest food deserts.
- Health disparities significantly impact African-Americans and lower the life expectancy of African-Americans in many communities across the country. In Baltimore, MD, the highest levels of poverty border the wealthiest neighborhoods, with abandoned houses only blocks away from major developments. “The Be Well, B’More” program focuses on 11 zip codes with the greatest disparities in health and wealth, by providing support and resources for increased physical activity.
- Youth violence. Jersey City, NJ is fighting high rates of youth violence by addressing it as a curable public health disease. It is employing cross-sector and holistic approaches to help connect children to better life choices. For example, bringing chess and yoga to underserved schools can help give children more productive outlets and be more mindful about their reaction to violence.
Take a look to see if your city or county is a part of the Challenge and what they are doing to improve the health of your community.