A series of maps released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seeks to draw attention to the fact that many U.S. cities have neighborhoods with very different life expectancies, some on par or lower than the life expectancies in developing countries.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the largest U.S. philanthropy organization devoted to public health, shows that geography has a lot to do with how long you'll live.
The maps, which are downloadable and shareable to Facebook and Twitter, show a dramatic difference between neighborhoods and areas just miles apart. In addition to New Orleans, whose Treme neighborhood has a life expectancy on par with Cambodia, the foundation also released maps for Washington, D.C., San Joaquin Valley, Calif., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., and Kansas City, Mo.
What's shocking, however, in these neighborhoods is the drastic difference of life expectancies. Yes, Treme in New Orleans has a life expectancy of only 55, but Lakeview, only a few miles away, has a life expectancy of 80, one year longer than the U.S. average of 79.
Andrew Perry, dean of urban education at Davenport University, compiled data on the social factors that determine health in New Orleans neighborhoods such as poverty, education and violence, and how they effect life outcomes.
"I always say people are not genetically disposed to live 25 years less," said Perry. "You should not live a mile away and have a 20-something-year advantage on your life."
Perry and his team, however, found no single reason for the dramatic differences in life expectancies.
"It's the constant exposure to crime, to processed foods, to low-performing schools, to stress, to violence, to all of these factors. [They] compound and have a dramatic effect on your body," said Perry. "There's a physiological response to these sociological issues."
It was more of the same, although certainly less dramatic, in D.C., where life expectancies ranged from ages 77 to 84. In California's San Joaquin Valley, life expectancies ranged from age 75 at exit 132 to age 87 at exit 189, less than 60 miles apart on California's Route 99.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul map stated, "3 miles could equal up to a 13-year life span difference." Finally, the Kansas City map showed that, within a few miles, there was a 14-year life span difference.