The place where 3-year-old Antoine Graves grows into adulthood is likely to determine whether he lives to be very old or dies young, according to a new study.

According to a new report entitled “Place Matters for Health in Baltimore: Ensuring Opportunities for Good Health for All,” which contains research on health inequities in the city, researchers have concluded, yet again, that health disparities vary by neighborhood. The research shows that disproportionately it is people of color and the poor who live in neighborhoods that are likely to make them sick. The report was produced by the Washington D.C.-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that specializes in issues of interest to African Americans and Equity Matters, Inc.

“Forty to 70 percent of the reason people get sick is because of where they live, work and play,” said Michael Scott, chief equity officer and co-founder of Equity Matters, Inc. “The health disparities in Baltimore are caused by the institutional racism embedded in everything from housing to education.”

According to the report, the number of years a person is expected to live varied as much as 30 years, depending on whether they lived in a poor or wealthy neighborhood. The study was conducted between 2005 and 2009 and spanned the city. According to the data, the residents with the city’s highest life expectancy—81 to 86 years—live in the Inner Harbor/Federal Hill and Greater Roland Park Poplar areas. The areas with the lowest life expectancy include the Greenmont, Druid Hill and Westport neighborhoods, where people are not expected to live past 63 years old, the report shows.

The Place Matters report was released to the public Nov. 13 at a news conference held at the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation on McCulloh St., in an area where the life expectancy is 64 to 69 years. The event was attended by U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland State Sen. Verna Jones (D-44), Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the national board of the NAACP and a long list of local stakeholders.

“Intuitively, we know that place matters. But this study powerfully expresses the relationship between neighborhood conditions and health outcomes,” Cummings said. “Here in Baltimore, home to great wealth and great poverty, the findings are stark…Researchers found a nearly 30-year difference in life expectancy across the city. Think of what you could do with another 30 years? Think of the birthdays and weddings, the children and grandchildren you could watch grow.”

Factors besides the lack of educational and economic opportunity that are making people sick include the prevalence of fast food outlets, liquor stores, the availability of tobacco products and the quality of neighborhood conditions, Scott said.

Neighborhoods with high expectancies offer less exposure to pollution, better health care, healthier food and water and infrequent episodes of violence, researchers found.

Baltimore city officials are analyzing results of a 2011 study that focused on health disparities between neighborhoods. State health officials are expected to try to equalize health conditions between the poor and wealthy by implementing enterprise zones to provide better health care in areas with high minority populations. The study included a map that showed evidence of how discriminatory policies like redlining had segregated Baltimore.

Rev. Andre Newsome, an associate minister at St. John’s Transformation Baptist Church, lives in Sandtown, near Midtown, where the life expectancy is lower, but works in Federal Hill, with the highest life expectancy in the city.

A laborer, Newsome, 47, the father of four children, said there are 20 liquor stores within a 10-block radius of his home. He said the grocery stores and services in his neighborhood are lacking compared to those near his job.

“The government needs to work towards a solution,” he said. “There need to be changes made so that people in those areas get access to better education, better nutrition, better economic opportunity. There are needs to be an emphasis on helping Black families to learn to live healthier so that things can change.

Avis Thomas-Lester

AFRO Executive Editor