When we think about what makes a person healthy, it’s often related to obvious factors: how frequently we exercise, what we eat, and if we use tobacco or alcohol. But beneath the surface are other elements that can influence just how easy, or not, it can be to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Many are aware that items like difficulty accessing healthcare or not having an opportunity for education have shown negative effects on our overall health, but researchers are now looking at other factors as well. It might come as a surprise, but it turns out that your specific neighborhood might actually be affecting your health negatively.
Those who live in large cities have a plethora of eating options available to them at nearly any given time. From fast food and drive-thru to organic health food stores, major metropolitan areas have both the variety and accessibility to sustain the population.
However, the idea of food deserts are being talked about with more and more regularity, and are described as the concept of a low-income area not having fresh and healthy food options that are reasonably accessible. The USDA has gathered data that examines the combination of an individual having no personal vehicle with the challenge of having to walk at least one mile to the nearest grocery store. Not surprisingly, the areas that are termed food deserts often correlate with areas of the US known for unhealthy individuals.
Researchers at Oxford University have examined the effects of fast food as well, noting that when there is an overabundance of convenient and unhealthy options that are often times closer to one’s home than the nearest grocery store, one’s health suffers substantially. In fact, children who live close to fast food restaurants are far more likely to gain weight than those who are farther away.
While these findings appeal to our common sense, it points to a community-wide problem where individuals do not have the means to seek out the food that is best for them. When fast food is within walking distance and no other options are available, it’s no surprise that your zip code can dramatically affect your health.
The area of residence can greatly influence a person’s health – ranging from the neighborhood’s walkability to the culture. An area’s culture can affect someone’s health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug consumption, nutrition, and physical activity.
Immediate surroundings may affect the efforts we make to engage in an active lifestyle, such as whether the natural environment makes it easier to exercise. A winter in Texas vs. a winter in Minnesota makes a difference in someone’s ability to frequently go outside to exercise or visit a gym. Walkability, such as whether an area has several bike lanes and parks, can influence an active lifestyle as well. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectivesfound an interesting correlation: researchers at the Harvard Public School of Health note that women who reside near green spaces had a 12% lower mortality rate than those who had little to no access to parks or community gardens.
Compounding the issue even further, air pollution in urban and low-income areas jeopardizes the health of those who do attempt to make it outdoors for a bit of exercise. It’s noted by the Environmental Defense Fund that 1 in 9 individuals die worldwide annually from air pollution.
Finding Reasonable Solutions
When you combine a lack of transportation, a ton of fast food and no healthy options, and the inability to exercise, access nature, or even stay outside without jeopardizing your health, it’s no mystery how our zip code directly affects our ability to be healthy. The question, of course, remains: what can people in these areas do to improve their quality of life?
The answers are never easy, but there are a few things you can think about if you find that you’re facing one or more of these challenges:
- Be strategic when it comes to grocery shopping, buying in bulk when possible and planning meals ahead of time. If you spend a bit of time during the week engaging in meal preparation, you’ll be less likely to choose an unhealthy food option for the sake of saving time.
- When pollution or lack of safety are factors in your area, try exercising in your living room. A simple workout video or even 20 minutes of dancing to your favorite music will get your heart pumping and is a great way to start building this new habit.
- If you’re feeling inspired, try joining a local community group or making your voice heard at a town hall meeting. When residents come together to voice a need for change, it can often end up with incredibly positive results.
This article was originally written by Courtney Elder and the original article can be found here https://www.singlecare.com/blog/your-zip-code-could-be-an-indicator-of-health/