In New York City, it takes about 25 minutes on the subway to ride from East Harlem to Midtown Manhattan. The two places are only six stops from one another on the 6 line. But they might as well be a million miles apart. Due to differences in education, housing, health care, and other factors, someone in Harlem is likely to live a completely different life–and die at a completely different time–compared to someone in Midtown.
Take a look at these maps. They show life expectancy in 10 U.S. cities. You can quickly see how different places have different outcomes–up to 20 years in places like Richmond, Virginia. For example, in Chicago, 16 years separate the upmarket Loop area from Washington Park, on the South side. In Atlanta, there’s a 12-year gap between Buckhead and Northwestern.
The maps were developed by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They show how long we can expect newborns to live based on population and death rates. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, VCU released the this year’s maps, shown in purple. The maps in yellow and gray are from 2013.
“The health differences shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small towns, and rural areas across America,” says Derek Chapman, associate director of research at the VCU Center on Society and Health. “Our goal is to help local officials, residents, and others understand that there’s more to health than merely health care and that improving health requires having a broad range of players at the table.”
That’s a familiar theme for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which emphasizes how communities can create a “culture of health” around public services and community support. It also funded these recent multi-factor County Health rankings.