Where you’re born can shorten your life

Children born just a few miles apart in Atlanta can have life expectancies that vary by more than 10 years, an analysis shows.

A child born in the 30305 ZIP Code in the affluent Buckhead district can be expected to live to age 84, according to a map recently created by Virginia Commonwealth University researchers.

But across I-75 in northwest Atlanta, a child in the 30318 ZIP Code would have an average life expectancy of 72 years.

Such dramatic differences are not unique to Atlanta, says Steve Woolf, director of VCU’s Center on Society and Health, which has also produced maps on New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas and Richmond.

Atlanta-Map---FINAL JPG

While the Atlanta map is by ZIP Code, the map in Richmond uses census tract information, and shows an even more dramatic split in life expectancy — 20 years.

“We view [the maps] as a conversation starter, to help dramatize the differences in health in urban areas,” Woolf says.  More attention should be paid to conditions that affect socioeconomic well-being, he adds. 

Neighborhoods with lower life expectancy often struggle with low employment, low educational attainment, poor housing and under-investment, Woolf says.

Inadequate health insurance coverage also is a factor, he says. (Georgia has not expanded its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, which would extend the program’s coverage to more low-income people. Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders say expansion would be too expensive for the state.)

The VCU center is producing a series of 20 maps this year, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Karen Minyard
Karen Minyard

Karen Minyard, director of the Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University, said Monday that the life expectancy map for Atlanta is not a surprise.

Maps of Atlanta charting factors such as third-grade reading level, high school graduate rates, emergency room use, obesity, heart disease and  diabetes “look the same’’ as life expectancy figures, Minyard says.

Minyard helps lead the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement (ARCHI), a coalition of public, private and nonprofit organizations committed to improving the region’s health.

The coalition is focusing now on the Fulton County cities of East Point, Hapeville and College Park, which lie just south of Atlanta. It’s working on improving care coordination, healthy behaviors and community improvements such as jobs, transportation, housing and high school graduation.

“There is a lot more money needed for this,” Minyard says.

“They have very little primary care there,’’ she says.