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Update: I-Team 10 investigation: Death rate by zip code

Posted at: 11/13/2012 6:24 AM
Updated at: 11/19/2012 10:54 AM
By: Brett Davidsen

We all hope to live to a ripe old age. But numbers obtained by I Team 10 suggest that if you live in some zip codes of Monroe County you can expect to have more than 17 years taken off your life.

The numbers give us a real peek into the disparities that exist in certain areas of the county and how those disparities contribute to whether we live a long life or not.

Harriett Bookhart walks her two boys, Eric and James, home from school each day. She keeps a close eye on them and she says she is doing all she can now to make sure they live a long, healthy life.

"I make sure they have healthy meals and let them get out as much as they can," says Bookhart.

But could where you live also determine how long you live? I Team 10 has obtained data compiled by the Monroe County Health Department that breaks down life and death by zip code. Some will find the results startling especially those living in zip code 14613.

That's the segment of the City of Rochester around Dewey Avenue and Driving Park. And it is there that people can expect to have the most years taken off their life.

It's also where Harriett Bookhart and her children live.

"I'm surprised. I'm shocked. I didn't think it was that high," she said.

The data measures the average years of potential life lost (YPLL) using 75 as an age goal. Put simply, any life shorter than that would be counted as a pre-mature death (with zero being the best score).

In 14613, the average years of potential life lost is 17.9 years. To view your zip code, click here.

"And yet when we look within that zip code we realize the disparities are even more pronounced, when we look at that same data by race and ethnicity," said Deputy Monroe County Health Director Dr. Byron Kennedy."So for 14613, African Americans and Latinos, their average is actually 31. So losing 31 years of your life -- that's huge."

So how might where you live contribute to whether you live a long life?

"Folks who are in impoverished neighborhoods, there are associations from prior studies that show that you have a higher burden of risk factors. So whether that's smoking or whether that's obesity, whether it's poor nutrition, all of those things are clustered," added Kennedy.

The red bars on the graph represent zip codes in the city's crescent, where poverty rates and violent crime are notably more prevalent. Nine of the top 11 zip codes in Monroe County for premature death are in the crescent.

"It is very clear that those persons whose zip codes are in the inner city portions of Rochester really do experience a different life expectancy, a different life trajectory," said Wade Norwood, Director of Community Engagement at Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency.  

"What this graph and these measures do is really drive me to think about what's the impact on a neighborhood when people die far too young," Norwood added.

The county average is 6.6 years below 75.

The zip code with the best result was 14618 (brighton) at 2.6 years followed by downtown Rochester, Pittsford and Fairport.
 
So what is driving the disparity? Infant deaths and homicides certainly contribute. But the county says residents in the crescent zip codes are also more likely to die from cancer, heart disease and stroke at an earlier age.

"I think the onion is a great metaphor because there are lots of layers and as you unpeel them, it kind of makes you want to cry," said Norwood.

We showed the numbers to Urban League President William Clark.

Clark points to poverty and access. He says residents in these impoverished neighborhoods have less access to things many take for granted, like preventive health screenings and healthy foods.

"Many of those neighborhoods, they have the corner stores and they're not selling fruits and vegetables and healthy food. Many individuals don't have reliable transportation so they can't really leave the neighborhood to shop healthy," said Clark.

"I think part of the challenge for us, not only as the public health agency, but also as a member of this community, is figuring out what do we need to do with our resources as a community to maybe change those data," said Kennedy.   

The experts we spoke with all say the best way to change the numbers is to first reach out to the trusted voices in each neighborhood.

"Because they're in the community, they know where the need is. And an investment in these organizations could really go a long way in educating those residents as to things that they need to be doing to improve their health," said Clark.

But before you go packing up and moving to another zip code, health experts say the best way to extend your life is to first educate yourself about things like family health history and nutrition and exercise.

It may also mean changing some cultural attitudes, like convincing yourself to go to the doctor when you're well as opposed to only going when you're sick.

Update: A handful of zip codes were left off the attached list. The Monroe County Health Department says it was due to a formatting issue. We have now received the remaining zip codes and their corresponding YPLL's. They are listed below.

14526 Penfield 4.3
14626 combined with 14515 Greece 4.3  
14420 Clarkson/Brockport 5.5
14559 Ogden/Spencerport 6.7
14468 Parma/Hilton 7.0
14428 Chili (Churchville) 7.7
14546 Wheatland  8.6
14464 Hamlin 8.8