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What if we could predict how long someone would live just by looking up their zip code? Dr. Anthony Iton, MD, JD, MPH

Dr. Anthony Iton

has made a shocking correlation between the two. Controlling for other factors, Dr. Iton has proven that life span is directly correlated with the location of your home. Great disparities exist from zip code to zip code, even in the same county. What causes this exactly? While it is not due to one factor alone, a number of issues contribute to the overall well-being of a place.

Lookup the life expectancy of your Hennepin County zip code here.

New research suggests that gene expression is more important than DNA itself; you may be predisposed to a certain condition (i.e. heart disease), but unless your environment encourages this gene to express itself, you may never suffer the actual condition. According to a 1993 study that investigated actual causes of death, they can be attributed to the following:
                     51% – lifestyle
                     20% – biology
                     10% – health care
                     19% – environment

Considering that 70% of premature deaths are preventable with a healthy lifestyle and environment, you would think that a healthy atmosphere would be higher on the list for what Americans want in their new home.

Maybe the reason it’s not is because we can’t easily define a “healthy environment.” Is it most important to have access to nature, trails for active living, bicycle commuting or transit, or fresh natural foods? How does the social environment impact our behaviors and encourage us to be more or less healthy?

These are the questions researchers like Dr. Iton are continuing to ask, and so far, it’s clear that the more healthy aspects exist in a community, the longer the lifespan of its residents. Problems like “food deserts” where healthy fresh foods are unavailable, often in lower-income communities, can easily cause health problems among an entire local population.

As the American population continues to age, with a record number of seniors coming of retirement age within the next 10 years, it’s critical that we continue asking these questions and begin designing communities with these criteria in mind to help residents stay healthy and active and decrease healthcare costs.

A recent article in the New York Times cited Walkability as the current and future driver of housing cost. According to Iton’s research, the price premium is justified, but we must continue to find ways to keep affordable housing in healthy areas, in order to provide equal opportunity for healthy, successful lives.

The Cornerstone Group is committed to providing mixed-income housing that meets active living design standards such as those set forth by Hennepin County. Are developers missing ingredients for making housing healthier? Post your comments below or to @TCGMN or info@tcgmn.com.