Studies Show Your Zip Code Can Affect Your Health


How can five simple numbers affect the longevity of your life? When it comes to your socioeconomic status, a lot, studies have shown.

According to Professor and author Dr. Henrie Treadwell and her new book, Beyond Stereotypes in Black and White: How Everyday Leaders Can Build Healthier Opportunities for African American Boys and Men, zip codes in struggling and low-income communities contribute to the decline of mental and physical health in a number of ways: reduced socioeconomic status, diminished access to desirable resources, and poor living conditions, less likely to have access to physical activity settings and commercial physical activity-related facilities to name a few.

“The unrelenting effects of this type of self-defeat is the poisonous snake coiled in the bosom of our collective failure to lead our communities out of the cycle crime, disease and early death,” says Dr. Treadwell. “So long as our leaders fail to acknowledge the long-term effects of generation after generation being beaten down by oppression, the psychic injury of seeing one’s parents rise up only to see their children beaten down again, then our piece-meal attempts at intervention continue to fail.”

The number of people in high poverty neighborhoods has increased by nearly 5 million, from 18.4 million to 22.3 million in the past decade, according to a report issued by the Urban Institute for the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies. This increase is a “significant setback” compared with progress in the 1990s.

Interestingly, the study also reveals that the population in high poverty neighborhoods is more diverse than it’s ever been, showing an increase in the number on non-Hispanic whites over the last decade. Where African Americans made up the majority population (59 percent) in 1970; today they account for one-third of the population living in high poverty tracks, according to the findings. Hispanics have risen from 17 percent to 32 percent, while non-Hispanic whites account for 28 percent of the residents in these tracts—up significantly from 23 percent in 2000, the study notes.

These neighborhoods are most likely to be in “food deserts” with limited access to nutrient rich foods; to be located near toxic waste sites and other pollution hazards; to have easier access to liquor stores, fast food and crack cocaine; and offer fewer health facilities and fully stocked pharmacies, according to a second study from Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The results are higher infant mortality rates and a greater proportion of health problems for the African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans who disproportionately live in high poverty or extreme poverty neighborhoods, according to the reports.

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