Life expectancy varies by where you live? Louisville Study Shows

The heart of Portland: 26th & Portland Avenue.
 Tom O’Neill
The Courier-Journal


The heart of Portland: 26th & Portland Avenue.

The heart of Portland: 26th & Portland Avenue.

About the inner-Louisville study

The Greater Louisville Project convened an 18-member Health Advisory Group, composed of leaders from the public and private sector, including officials from Jefferson County Public Schools, the metro Department of Public Health & Wellness, major employers such as GE and Humana, local hospitals, the physician community, and neighborhood groups.
The statistical launch-point was the Louisville Metro Health Equity Report, produced by the Department of Public Health & Wellness’ Center for Health Equity. Its subtitle is “The Social Determinants of Health in Louisville Metro Neighborhoods.”

About the ‘peer city’ study

• The Greater Louisville Project used a framework created by County Health Rankings, a project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic organization devoted to public health.
• County Health Rankings ranks health data by-county across the U.S., ranked within their state, but this is the first report to use data across competitive cities. Epidemiologists from County Health Rankings identified and pro­vided weighting for the indi­cators for health outcomes, as well as indicators within each of the four factors.

0 is the best ranking


A new study based on Louisville health data reveals that your level of education and which neighborhood you call home may say a lot about how healthy you are — and how long you’ll live.

Life expectancy within the city varies by as much as 13 years — from 70 in neighborhoods west of downtown to 83 in the more affluent eastern areas.

“Are we comfortable with that? … We’re thinking the community would say, ‘No,’ ” said Christen Boone, director of the Greater Louisville Project, which is releasing the report Thursday. “It was a data point that jumped out in black and white, and begged the question, ‘What now?’ ”

The report relies on a 2011 study by Louisville Metro Health and Wellness, found that exercise, smoking and diet all played large roles in determining the quality and length of life in Louisville neighborhoods.

And it also found that Louisville fares poorly in comparison with 14 “peer cities,” ranking tenth.

Greater Louisville Project’s 2013 Special Report, “Building a Healthier Louisville,” shows Louisville ranks below Nashville and Cincinnati, but better than Indianapolis and Memphis. The top-ranked cities were Raleigh, N.C., and Omaha, Neb.

The data for the health rankings, which includes such factors as how healthy people are while they’re alive and how long they live, was compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s County Health Rankings.

The Greater Louisville Project compiled the data to make the argument that the health of Louisville’s residents is at the center of the community’s ability to prosper economically. A news conference to discuss the findings, and possible next steps, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Kentucky International Convention Center. Mayor Greg Fischer will attend.

Among individual neighborhoods in Louisville, the study provides a stark contrast, rooted in educational opportunities: Life expectancy in more highly educated areas, such as St. Matthews, Floyds Fork and Jeffersontown, was 83 years.

At the opposite end, people in 10 neighborhoods, including Portland, Algonquin, Smoketown and Phoenix Hill, can expect on average to live 70 years.

In addition to location, the findings also suggested that low-income and minority Louisvillians could expect shorter lives than wealthier, white Louisvillians.

“This report is so critical because it narrows the focus to what we need to do as a community to improve health outcomes,” said Dr. Sandra Brooks, a gynecologic oncologist at the Norton Cancer Institute and a member of the Health Advisory Group in the study.

She called it a “jumping off” point.

The report concludes that “leaders from health care, business, education, nonprofit organizations and government must support programs and policies to improve our community’s physical health. In doing so, we will ultimately improve our economic health as well.”

Education is a key to health because it improves access to doctors, leads to better choices that improve health and access to transportation and recreational facilities.

“It’s an interconnected and complex puzzle,” Boone said.

Bart Irwin and the team at the Family Centers of Louisville try to untangle that puzzle daily. The Family Centers is a nonprofit community health center that provides services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. It serves more than 42,000 patients annually at seven locations.

Irwin, assistant director of the Portland center, wasn’t surprised by the links between education and overall health. But, he said, many of the health issues revolve around patients’ choices.

“That’s one of our frustrations, people who continue to smoke, have poor diets, and some of that is within their control,” Irwin said. “There’s an element of personal responsibility and cultural norms. It’s hard to break.”

But he also pointed out, it’s more difficult to find, for instance, fresh-produce in lower-income neighborhoods. And it’s easier to find fitness gyms in wealthier areas.

“One of the big barriers, the primary one, is access to health care,” he said. “Being uninsured, you can probably get into a health facility, and it sounds simple, doesn’t it? But access is hard because of the volume of people. It’s supply and demand.”

The study, partly paid for with a grant from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, explores the connections between health and what the center calls the “Deep Drivers of Change”: Education, 21st century jobs, and the quality of place, or where you live.

“Our objective is to spark conversation,” Boone said. “To help narrow the focus and catalyze action around how Louisville can improve our physical health, and ultimately our economic health as well.”

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