In Arizona, Your Zip Code Determines Your Life Expectancy

Will you live a long life? Or die young?

That may depend, in part, on your neighborhood.

People who live in Phoenix’s 85004 zip code, for example, have an average life expectancy of 71, according to a new study. But just 12 miles away in Scottsdale’s 85258 zip code people are looking at an average of 85 years.

For the study, Derek Chapman, a researcher with Virginia Commonwealth University, worked with the Arizona-based nonprofit St. Luke’s Health Initiative to analyze mortality rates in 36 Valley zip codes. They discovered, said Suzanne Pfister, president and CEO of St. Luke’s Health Initiative, that “our zip code may be a more important indicator of health than even our genetic code.” 
Your neighborhood affects not only the quality of your housing but also your access to affordable, healthy food.

In Maricopa County, the United States Department of Agriculture has identified 55 low-income census tracts where at least 33 percent of residents live a mile or more away from the nearest supermarket or grocery store. In neighborhoods like South Phoenix, where many people don’t own cars, a trip to the grocery store three miles away might require two hours of traveling on public transit, said Jon Ford, communications director at St. Luke’s Health Initiative. It’s often easier just to pick up dinner for the family at a nearby fast-food joint.

“If you’re forced choose between going farther and spending more money, or staying closer and spending less money, you’ll probably do the latter,” he said.

Better sidewalks and parks also play a part in residents’ health, according to St. Luke’s. People who feel safe on the street, live near a pubic transportation hub, and are surrounded by “enjoyable scenery” are more likely to walk or bike than those who do not. One 2011 study found that low-income residents who lived within one mile of a park exercise 38 percent more than those who live farther away.

“A lot of people like to think health is all about personal choices; it’s not,” Ford said. “It’s about the opportunities you have. If there are no grocery stores, how are you supposed to eat healthy? If the streets are dangerous, where do you exercise?” 
(This article originally was posted December 10.)