(BPT) - Did you know that your zip code has a bigger impact on your health than your genetic code? It's because of factors known as social determinants of health. Things like air quality, employment, education, the people you socialize with and the safety of your neighborhood all have an impact. In fact, 60 percent of a person’s life expectancy is driven by factors outside of the doctor’s office. Check out a few surprising things in your neighborhood impacting your health — and what to do about them:
You might not think about it, but your sidewalks are impacting your health. The average person burns 100 calories walking a mile. If we all had more easily accessible sidewalks and spent more time walking, we could become more fit. The WalkWorks ChesCo! program in Chester County, Pennsylvania, a Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge Spotlight winner, set a goal for community members to hit one billion steps in 2017, and reached it three months ahead of schedule. Reach your step goal by taking a sidewalk stroll every once in a while.
Your Grocery Stores
How easy is it to get to your nearest grocery store? The distance between your home and the nearest grocery store impacts your health immensely. The CDC defines a food desert as an area that lacks access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk and other foods that make up a full and healthy diet. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, residents in the East End neighborhood have spent the last 35 years with little or no grocery stores close by. Last year, a pop-up market ended the trend of food deserts and gave the neighborhood accessible, healthful options.The grocery stores in your neck of the woods might just influence your fruit and vegetable consumption.
Your Neighborhood Police
Community police work to keep your neighborhoods safe and lower violence rates. The Mind/Spirit/Body project in Jersey City, New Jersey, has made it a priority to recognize violence as a health issue, and has actively decreased violence within local neighborhoods by promoting healthy behaviors among its citizens. In the last 25 years, violent crime rates have decreased by 50 percent because of police. Next time you see an officer, thank them for keeping you safe!
Your Water System
Your water system impacts so many aspects of your daily life. From safe drinking water, to a healthy sewer system to curbing erosion from rainfall, communities must manage water in many ways. For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sewer overflows happen about 75,000 times a year. Did you know sewage overflows can contaminate our waters, cause property damage and other public health threats? The city of Camden, New Jersey, another Challenge Spotlight Award winner, set up a program to reduce the number of sewage overflows in their region and improve water quality for all. The Camden SMART Initiative gathers community engagement through a variety of new mobile apps, community meetings and social media. Make sure to check to see if your community sewer system is in top shape to avoid contaminants.
The schools in your community matter. Many studies show that a higher level of education is a strong predictor of a longer life due to many factors, including higher income, social status, healthy behaviors and social well-being. The Steinhardt School at NYU completed a study, finding that 145,243 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who had not completed high school went on to earn a GED or high school degree. Education levels affect mortality rates over time. Your local teachers, schools and peers impact your life expectancy more than you know.
To learn more, visit: http://www.healthiestcities.org/ and join the conversation at #Healthiestcitieschallenge.
About the Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge:
The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge is a collaboration between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties to encourage small to midsize U.S. cities, counties and federally recognized tribes to create a positive health impact. The challenge will identify the best practices for achieving community and individual health, wellness and health equity.