Our Stories

A Model for Closing the Longevity Gap

Here’s a stark look at health inequity: depending on whether you are born in a prosperous or a poor American neighborhood, your life expectancy can vary by as much as 25 years. In a blog post for Build Healthy Places, Julia Ryan, LISC’s director of health and safety programs, explains how Rhode Island’s “health equity zones” are working to close the longevity gap. As lead agency for two of those zones, LISC is helping tackle the deep-rooted problems underlying that gap with a multi-strategy action plan.

The story below was published on the Build Healthy Places blog:
In Rhode Island, a Model for Upending Health Inequity

In 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Health established ten “health equity zones” across the state. The Local Initiatives Support Corp. shares stories of success from their experience managing two of these zones.

Looking at a map of the places they call home, most people can easily point to notably affluent areas versus the ones that have dilapidated homes, under-resourced schools and unsafe sidewalks—places more likely to be cut through by a six-lane highway, or to host a polluting factory rather than a supermarket stacked with fresh food or a tree-shaded playground.

In the last decade, as public health experts have mapped these areas of social disparity, they have also begun plotting a new set of data points on health outcomes. Indeed, it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that healthier living environments give rise to healthier lives. And longer lives, too. For example, a baby born in the Lakeview area of New Orleans can expect to live to 80, whereas one born just a few miles away in Treme has a life expectancy of 55.

Twenty five years. It’s hard to imagine a starker reflection of unequal opportunity. But this doesn’t have to be.

When government, community leaders and public health advocates collaborate, these disparities don’t have to be inevitable. In fact, this is how my organization, the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), approaches our work to help improve health in low-income places all across the country. We know we can begin to upend health inequities by focusing our combined efforts to support wellbeing in the neighborhoods that need it most.

That’s the idea behind a path-breaking initiative launched last year by the Rhode Island Department of Health to establish ten “health equity zones” (HEZ) across this small New England state. Continued[+]...