Location, location, location…
I recently attended a seminar where I heard it mentioned that zip code is a better predictor of longevity than genetic make-up. In other words, where you live plays a critical role in a person’s health, education, and life expectancy more so than DNA. Kids rarely go out and play anymore. Gone are the days of roller skating in the street, trying to beat your friends in foot races, or being outside for hours on a cold Christmas day after discovering your new bike under the tree. Couple that with neighborhoods where there is an abundance of fast food restaurants and liquor stores on every corner, there’s no wonder that the U.S. is among the leaders in obesity and deaths from preventable diseases.
A recent published report found that Americans consume the most calories (contributing to the obesity epidemic), abuse more prescription and illicit drugs, have more traffic accidents involving alcohol, and own more firearms. On a micro, county level, statistics confirm that where you live has an overall impact on your health and well-being. Consider the example below on published premature death (defined as years of potential life lost before the age of 75 per 100,000 in population) statistics for the State of New York and two of its counties:
State of New York – number of premature deaths = 5,650
Bronx County – number of premature deaths = 7,481
Nassau County – number of premature deaths = 4,607
Even without all of the scientific analyses and explanations, in simplest terms, the data indicates that folks living in Nassau County generally live longer than folks living in Bronx County. In fact, Nassau County is doing better than the State of New York as a whole in this regard. Bronx County was ranked 60th out of the 62 NY counties in terms of length of life and dead last in terms of overall quality of life. Conversely, Nassau County ranked 5th and 20th in the same two categories, respectively, out of the 62 counties. The rankings paint a similar picture in places like Washington, D.C. where the crime and STD rates stagger above national averages. Nonetheless, I do believe there are steps we can take to make our communities and neighborhoods healthier places to live.
Consumers play an important role in the solution of quality of life and longevity because they make individualized choices about food and lifestyle. So, even though our neighborhoods may contain an abundance of fast food restaurants, we can choose not to eat there. We can stop buying our children so many video games and buy them skates, a bike, or a scooter instead. We can stop paying exorbitant fees to the local Check Casher and open a bank account with direct deposit instead. We can organize neighborhood watches and get to know our local law enforcement officers to make our communities safer. We can save for retirement now rather than relying on a dwindling social security later. We can save now for our children’s college education to ensure a brighter future later (check out http://www.savingforcollege.com/#.). Finally, we can buy life insurance now to ensure that our families are not burdened with our final expenses later.
In short, our communities reflect the choices and lifestyles of the people who live in them. From all stages of life, infancy to adulthood, adulthood to the golden years, there are meaningful and practical steps each one of us can make to improve our quality of life. Invest in education, invest in retirement, and always, always have a rainy day fund (think of saving a portion of any tax refund for just this purpose). You never know when the storm will come.