EILI WRIGHT, Health & Poverty Fellow—

In September 2018, The Newark Advocate published an article titled “South Newark has county’s lowest life expectancy.” The short story cited research from the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project. The study took census statistics from 2010-2015, analyzed the data, and was able to provide towns around America with a life expectancy range for people born in extremely specific regions.  

From the study, the Newark Advocate found that Granville, Ohio has the highest life expectancy in all of Licking County. If you are born in Granville, chances are you will live to be approximately 84.3 years old. The lowest life expectancy, however, is right down the road from Granville on the south side of Newark, where the life expectancy is only 69.4 years old. With information from this study, there is research showing that the life expectancy difference of being born eight miles away will shorten a person’s life expectancy by 15 years. 

The United States National Average life expectancy is 77.8 years old based on 2010 Census data. In comparison, the life expectancy for people born in the south side of Newark and surrounding areas is exceedingly low. Each Council Ward in Newark has a life expectancy between only 69 and 71 years of age. 

Jeremy Blake, the City Council representative for the south side of Newark, also works at Denison University in the Information Technology department, thus spending lots of time in both Newark and Granville. Blake grew up in Newark and is proud to call it home, while also recognizing there is work that needs to be done to improve the quality of life in the area. 

The numbers from the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project did not surprise Blake as someone who is so familiar with the struggles people in the 2nd Ward face. “Poverty in general lowers life expectancy. Are all poor people not going to have a long life? Not necessarily. But do they have quality jobs? Is there housing in their community that is high quality? These things matter,” he said.

Joe Ebel, the Licking County Health Commissioner who was quoted in 2018 at the time the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project was published, had a similar report. “We know that there’s a lot of social determinants of health like your income, education, access to affordable safe housing, reliable transportation, access to healthy foods. There’s a lot of things besides just the healthcare you get when you’re sick or the genetics that you’re born with.” 

As both Blake and Ebel said, social determinants of health persist despite the access to health care or medical treatment one has available throughout their lives. In the 1990s, the social determinants of health were becoming a popularized idea in public medicine. Daedalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, published a fall 1999 issue that explained the social determinants of health. They said the idea that only scientific medicine is responsible for our health prevents us from being able to realize that access to other sources of health are necessary, like social determinants of health. Yet, a lot of these social determinants of health are actually an indicator of inequality in America because so many people do not have access to them. Ignorance about this problem creates more inequality across the board and prevents us from helping those in need. 

Jeremy Blake is someone who is able to see those inequalities. Because Blake spends so much time driving back and forth to his job at Denison and then home to south Newark, he has a different perspective about how social determinants look in Granville in comparison to Newark.

“Y’know when I’m driving to Denison, through Granville, people are walking their dog, running, bicycling, they’re doing things for leisure, just for pleasure, for their own personal exercise,” he said. “Generally, when someone is walking in my neighborhood, they’re trying to get to work. Or they’re trying to get to the grocery store. They’re walking because we have no good public transportation system, they’re walking because there’s a reason to get to point A to point B. So it’s really a very different demographic or mindset, even as people that are living paycheck to paycheck vs. someone who is more well-to-do.” 

Here is–at a minimum–a list of social determinants of health as defined by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:

  • Basic education 
  • Healthy food 
  • Safe (and quality) housing 
  • Transportation 
  • Literacy 
  • Natural environment (trees, grass, lack of pollution)
  • Recreational settings (gyms, playgrounds, parks)
  • Access to emerging technologies 
  • Economic stability 

People in the United States, and even at Denison, may not recognize how impactful social determinants of health are because they have always had access to them. That is why numbers like those from the U.S. Small-area Life Expectancy Estimates Project are so important. Even though they are not typically available to county-wide health departments, they allow people to see where inequalities are happening. In 2018, Ebel said the numbers provided by the U.S. Small-area Life Expectancy Estimates Project enabled the health department to know where to focus their attention. 

Next week’s article will focus on specific social health determinants that are preventing people from having a higher life expectancy in Newark in comparison to Granville, the areas in Newark the health department and others are focusing on as well as the barriers that come with trying to provide adequate programming to fix things like social determinants of health.