Studies continue to document the strong correlations between neighborhoods and health of residents—including, especially, significant gaps between “the health of residents living in the city’s poorest ZIP codes versus those in the wealthiest,” according to a report by Sheila Mulrooney Eldred. The physical environments in which we live, work, and play have been shown to be a leading predictor of life span. Nearly 50 research studies concluded that, in the United States, the physical environment accounts for over one-third of deaths each year.
Public health advocates raise awareness about factories built in or next to poor neighborhoods, but they are also focusing more on social determinants of health in order to reduce health inequalities and fight for preventative initiatives. Peter Hotez of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston explains, ““This isn’t a resource problem; the funds are there. It’s a political willpower problem.”
Typically, low-income neighborhoods receive less funding for neighborhood repairs and restoration. These neighborhoods also receive less attention in terms of maintaining a healthy environment for their residents. For instance, Detroit has earned the title “asthma capital,” as more than 12 percent of its youth have been diagnosed with chronic lung disease. In order to help educate residents and prevent more health affects, Detroit is hoping to create an app that allows residents to have a current air quality reading with time and location. This app will give residents the power to judge whether or not it is safe to be outdoors.
Houston is also struggling with Zika virus outbreaks in low-income neighborhoods that are crowded and deteriorating, which leaves many water reservoirs for mosquito breeding. Enforcing laws prohibiting illegal dumping in neighborhoods and sending city inspectors to businesses are two plans Houston expects to enact in order to prevent high rates of Zika outbreaks in low-income neighborhoods.
Baltimore’s public health initiatives have started from the residents themselves, as women have organized lead paint education classes with one another, as well as healthy lifestyle classes. Poverty is one the leading predictor of disease, and the health gab is only widening. It will take the efforts of the cities themselves, as well as the government to stop and prevent the health gap in the United States.
The health gap of children living in poverty has been largely attributed to stress according to corporate media, as seen on Fox News on November 15, 2016. The condition of neighborhoods has been overlooked by these media organizations, instead blaming the residents for exposing children to violence at such a young age. Sheila Mulrooney Eldred focuses on how the physical environment is linked to these health rates, rather than blaming the residents for their poor health.
Source: Sheila Mulrooney Eldred, “Health and Neighborhood Are Too Often Linked. These People Are Out to Change That,” Ensia, August 25, 2016, https://ensia.com/features/zip-code-shouldnt-lead-early-death/.
Student Researcher: Bethany Bullard (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Debora Paterniti (Sonoma State University)