Ford: Working for healthy communities in every ZIP code

We all know our genetic code has a direct influence on our health. But most people don’t realize that our ZIP code also has a huge impact on our actual life expectancy.

In Scottsdale, we can expect to live to the ripe old age of 85. Our neighbors in south Phoenix are likely to die a whopping 14 years earlier, at age 71.

Jon Ford

A map released by Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clearly illustrates the large gaps in life expectancy by ZIP code across the Phoenix region.

The same holds true for cities across the country. The point? Where we live affects our health and well-being far more than most people realize.

As the director of communications for Vitalyst Health Foundation I see every day how a variety of factors contribute to geographic differences in health. What it boils down to is that some areas have easy access to the building blocks of health and others do not.

Access to quality education. Access to well-paying jobs. Access to affordable, quality housing, healthy foods, and transportation. When people have only lower-quality options, they are less likely to lead healthy lives and more likely to die at a younger age.

At Vitalyst, we are taking 20 years of experience and focusing our efforts and resources on transforming the places where we live, work, learn and play.

Through collaboration with sectors including housing, transportation, community development, economic development, and health care, we are working to break down silos and achieve positive change that impacts the health of all Arizonans.

We have designated 2017 as the Year of Healthy Communities. This means we will be identifying the efforts being made to help Arizonans live healthier lives and facilitating connections between the many groups and sectors statewide who connect with this common goal. Ultimately, we will focus attention on the ways we can work together to improve systems, policies and environments that impact health outcomes, driving change through programs that make a difference.

I would like to invite my Scottsdale neighbors to join the 2017: Year of Healthy Communities movement.

It is through collaboration that we will continue to make an impact on the health and well-being of Arizonans. Through education, engagement, and working with key decision makers, we look forward to transforming cities and towns in ways that improve health, livability, and well-being.

And, I am pleased to say that incremental change has already begun. Through a range of efforts and investments, we are starting to see meaningful improvements that could help change the health gaps our region faces.

Twelve miles shouldn’t add up to a 14-year difference in life expectancy. Visit LiveWellAZ.org to learn how to get involved. Because a stronger Arizona comes from building healthy communities, in every ZIP code.

Editor’s note: Mr. Ford is the communications director for Vitalyst Health Foundation.

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