How long will you live? Check your zip code
April 1st, 2011
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.
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.