EILI WRIGHT, Health & Poverty Fellow—Due to an unexpected study conducted in 2018, called the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project, the Newark Advocate has found that the eight mile difference between Granville and Newark will shorten a person’s life expectancy by 15 years.

Granville, Ohio has the highest life expectancy in all of Licking County but Newark, Ohio has the lowest. If you are born in Granville, chances are you will live to be approximately 84.3 years old, whereas the life expectancy in Newark is only 69.4 years old. 

In both the newspaper article published in 2018 and in the eyes of others who coexist between both Granville and Newark Ohio, a large part of the life expectancy gap exists due to the difference in social determinants of health between Newark and Granville. 

According to 2010 census data, the average median income in Granville, Ohio is $118,375 per household. The median household income for Newark is only $48,884. Newark’s median household income, much like Newark’s average life expectancy, is very low in comparison to Granville. While on the outside these things may seem to be disconnected, there are numerous studies focused solely on the effect of income inequality on mortality rates. 

In fact, based on data from a study by Kate E. Pickett and Richard G. Wilkinson in 2015, there are up to 300 studies focused on the issue of economic inequality’s effect on mortality rates. After reviewing a large sample of these studies, Pickett and Wilkison found that correlation does mean causation in this set, and the two are indefinitely linked. 

Consider, for example, one of the social determinants of health: healthy food. Food costs money, especially healthy food like fruits and vegetables. If a family of four were to go to the grocery store to buy food for a week, a pound of apples would cost anywhere between $2-$4, according to different grocery store listed prices. At McDonald’s, however, a hamburger costs only $2.49.

To put this into perspective, a hamburger has at least 250 calories, whereas an apple only has 95. Looking at the numbers, a hamburger would be more likely to keep a small child full whereas an apple may not. A study conducted in 2015, Dietary Quality of Americans by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Status: A Systematic Review, focused specifically on “spending among SNAP participants as compared to income-eligible and higher-income nonparticipants.” This study found that SNAP participants “are more likely to afford food that is caloric dense food and unhealthy, over nutritious food such as fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Another barrier that arises in the search for food for a healthy diet is the accessibility of a grocery store within a distance that a person can reach. Together, the distance and affordability of healthy food creates a socioeconomic barrier for people in low-income barriers called a ‘food desert.’ The official definition of a food desert is “an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.”

Olivia Biggs, the Public Information Officer of the Licking County Health Department, said there are food deserts in pockets of Newark. Unlike in Granville, where Ross’s IGA is only a twenty-minute sidewalk path down the road, Biggs said, “We realized that there was a gas station that most people were walking to to get their groceries, so of course there there’s going to be bags of chips, canned foods, very faulty items.” 

To fix this problem, the Licking County Health Department created multiple programs to combat the food desert issue. Reportedly, they have communicated with more local mom-and-pop shops, encouraging them to include more fruits and vegetables, and this has been a successful program in their effort to provide more healthy foods for the people living in downtown Newark. 

Another large push from the health department that has been made, according to Biggs, is their collaboration with the Canal Market area. Through communication with the market, the health department succeeded in approval for SNAP-recipient programs to use their supplemental nutrition benefits as payment at the market. 

Despite the successes they have made, however, Biggs maintains that there are still some barriers present. “Some of these individuals don’t have transportation, so they’re walking. So we look at it as a health-in-all policy initiative,” she said. “We see that there are no crosswalks, where people can cross the road with their little kids while trying to get healthy foods, so the health department advocates to create crosswalks to be installed at the farmers market. 

“Health is just so wide, we really need to be looking at it at a broad angle of seeing and recognizing the barriers that keep people from choosing the healthy options.”

While their success with the farmer’s market has been a win for the health department and the people in Newark as a whole, the market is only open from June to September, and during that time period is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays for three hours. 

Jeremy Blake, a council member of Newark who represents the south side, is appreciative of the programs the health department has pushed through but still maintains that there is more to be done. “We are talking about people who are going to dollar stores, and these low grocery stores to get their products, so they’re getting probably canned goods, probably, you know, quick easy meal type things, frozen food meals. But when you’re used to being able to just open up a can or open up a bag of frozen goods and throw them on top of the stove, now all of the sudden you’re going to give someone fresh produce. Do they know how to prepare that? I think there is a learning curve as people are going through a farmer’s market experience, in knowing how, “what do I purchase?” 

In 2019,  researchers considered the same factors in a study titled The changing landscape of food deserts, first and foremost being able to afford safe and quality food, but also the presence of adequate house appliances and a kitchen to prepare the food. 

As Biggs has stated, health is an all-encompassing issue. The numbers provided by the U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project along with the $80,000 difference in median household incomes between Newark and Granville not only reinforce each other, but also the 300 studies done on whether or not income inequality results in higher mortality rates in the United States. 

Next week’s article will focus on members of the community that are focusing on more of a grass-roots approach, and what Denison students can do to be more involved.