How long will you live? Check your zip code

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April 1st, 2011

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Omaha, NE – Where you live can quite accurately predict just how long you’re going to live. That’s according to a Harvard Professor who stopped by the University of Nebraska Medical Center Thursday.

Dr. David Williams says your zip code is a more powerful determinant of your life expectancy than your genetic code

Doctor David Williams is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He’s researched the uneven distribution of health across the country, and has concluded your zip code is a stronger indicator of your health than your genetic code.

“Where you live is a powerful predictor of where you can go to school, so it then predicts your educational preparation, your educational opportunity,” he said. “Where you live is a powerful predictor of access to employment opportunities. [It] determines the quality of housing in which you live, and quality of housing affects health. Where you live determines the neighborhood in which you reside, and your neighborhood can either encourage health, or make it more difficult to be healthy.”

Williams said racially segregated communities have helped create further health disparities by race and socioeconomic status.

“Someone can ask the question, what does segregation have to do with health?” he said. “And it’s really not segregation per se, there’s nothing inherently negative about living next to someone of your own race. The problem … is the clustering of social ills that exists in places of concentrated poverty.”

Williams said a healthy society is a powerful resource that determines economic productivity and competitiveness, and ill health can be a drain on economic resources.

“We need to understand that community development policy is health policy, unemployment policy is health policy, housing policy is health policy,” he said. “We need to work across traditional sectors of society, that haven’t talked to each other, to see what we can do.”

Williams was invited to Omaha by UNMC’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities in the College of Public Health. He discussed his findings with a room full of community leaders Thursday night at the Hilton hotel in downtown Omaha.

3 Responses

  1. kirneh says:

    Bring an epidemiologist and after doing research at HMS and Broad. I am convinced that Dr Williams is Right

  2. Mr.Muhammad Z. Khan['92;HSPH'Harvard University] says:

    I just have a question:Such as me who after being educated at HSPH ,Harvard University is living in Dhaka,Bangladesh,not necessarily in the best circumstances of the situation one could think of,but does bounce back every time there is challenging circumstances ,be it professionally or personally-What could I expect life expectancy given Bangladesh Diet and Social life that may be helpful to many things ,but not to living a healthy life,physically rewarding and emotionally fulfilling?

  3. Winluck Livingstone says:

    As a medical student in Tanzania, east Africa with a future to study public health, I strongly agree with Dr David. It’s a sad but true fact, it’s time we swallow it up and do something about. In some parts of Africa you don’t even have to move to another area code to find that difference in LE, you can just move to a few miles neighbourhood and the difference is shockingly severe.

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