Twenty-eight miles. Twenty-eight miles separate two cities in Indiana: Carmel and Indianapolis. Only 28 miles, yet life expectancy differs by 14 years.
Residents of Carmel’s 46033 ZIP code have an average life expectancy of 83.7 years, according to SAVI, which is part of the Polis Center at IUPUI. This is similar to Japan’s life expectancy of 84 years. Yet, 28 miles south is downtown Indianapolis, where residents have an average life expectancy of 69.4 years, lower than in Bangladesh and Iraq.
According to research by the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, Indy’s life expectancy is the same as it was 60 years ago, with similar life spans to that of Iran, Uzbekistan and Bangladesh. These are all places with underdeveloped socio-economic systems and still, we have similar life expectancies. We must ask ourselves, why does this occur?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25% of the health of a population is attributed to genes, biology and health behaviors, and roughly 75% of population health is attributed to “social determinants of health.” This means that some populations have greater access to health resources and opportunities than others.
So why is Carmel’s life expectancy so much higher? Factors may include the Monon Trail, which, starting with the beginning of the trail, has a life expectancy of 83 years, and at the end of the 10-mile stretch it is down to 80. The Monon Trail offers a convenient path to walk, bike or skate on. Studies show that more physical activity can add more years to your life.
A 2015 article in the Carmel Current investigated this difference in life expectancy. The writer interviewed Tess Weathers, a researcher from the Fairbanks School of Public Health. She attributed the gap to several factors, one of them being education, saying the quality can lead to better or worse jobs. Jobs with low controllability can cause chronic stress.
Another reason that life expectancy differs is racism. According to U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, health inequalities with racial minorities have been persistent. Racism may be one cause of these inequities. Studies find that individuals who say they have experienced racism exhibit worse health than people who do not report it. This could be a contributing factor to the difference in life expectancy.
I interviewed Phyllis Boyd, executive director of Groundwork Indy, where the goal is to engage youth in community-based projects and enhance environmental, economic and social well-being.
Groundwork Indy grows food on site and supports local community gardens. It also provides knowledge to youth of color so they can live a healthy life, in addition to skills to help them in the future. According to Boyd, “The work we do is to help engage them with the community. They have incredible potential.”
She believes this project can help with life expectancy if they can make walkways accessible to people. She believes that if it were safer and easier to get to walkways, people could walk, bike and, simultaneously, improve their health. Boyd also emphasized the importance of greenways.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, racism is a reason for heath disparities, and the elimination of disparities cannot be achieved without first undoing racism. The study lists discrimination and residential segregation as examples of social determinants of health.
“Residential segregation remains pervasive and may influence health by concentrating poverty, environmental pollutants, infectious agents, and other adverse conditions,” the report says.
This shows that segregation is still a problem today, and this impacts the health of residents.
One thing you can do to help is get involved with Groundwork Indy. If you would like to do so, learn more here, where you can find ways to donate or volunteer.
Isabella Simons is a student at Marian University studying communication. She plans to graduate in 2022.