Experts are still debating the influence of nature vs. nurture: are we born a certain way, or are we shaped by our environments? Researchers at The Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health, and the Roberts Wood Johnson Foundation, are asking this question in regards to physical health, well-being, and life expectancy.
Researchers at the VCU Center on Society and Health created maps (available on their website) that reveal how certain neighborhoods can affect life expectancy. The maps were created using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Census Bureau, and from state and local health agencies.
According to Derek Chapman, Ph.D., associate research director, “When it comes to health, the choices we make depend on the choices available to us.” He continues that some communities have more liquor stores than groceries, lack safe and affordable housing, or have low quality schools. Some of these urban and rural areas have experienced generation after generation of isolation from good opportunities. He concludes, “America cannot be healthy if we are leaving behind whole communities.”
Their research showed that a distance of as little as five miles can completely change the average life expectancy of a group of people by as much as 20 years. The challenge now is to close these longevity gaps and create a healthier population as a whole. RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., said the team’s goal is to provide fulfilling, productive, and healthy life for everyone in society, regardless of who they are or where they live. She said, “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each community must chart its own course and everyone has a role to play.”