Cincinnati Health Department Wants to Bridge the 25-Year Life Expectancy Gap Between These Cincinnati Neighborhoods

The Cincinnati Health Department has held public meetings about life expectancy data as part of a larger effort to understand and address life expectancy disparities in the city.

Where life expectancies increased (green) and decreased (red) in the city of Cincinnati - City of Cincinnati
City of Cincinnati
Where life expectancies increased (green) and decreased (red) in the city of Cincinnati

The average person in Cincinnati lives to be more than 76 years old. But there are some big differences in how that number actually shakes out depending on where in the city you live. And, troublingly, the city's life expectancy has dropped slightly since last decade.

In Lower Price Hill, the average life expectancy is 63 years — the lowest in the city and 25 years shorter than in Mount Adams, the neighborhood just a couple of miles away with the highest life expectancy at 88 years.

That isn't the only place where big disparities exist. In Avondale, one of the city's largest predominantly African-American neighborhoods, life expectancy is just 69 years. Next door, in predominantly-white Clifton, it's almost 81 years. 

There are complex reasons for that huge gap — economics, environmental factors, racial segregation, access to fresh food and other issues.

"These gaps can mean people in one neighborhood live 20 to 30 years longer than those just a couple blocks away -- and the inequalities are prevalent in neighborhoods with high levels of racial and ethnic segregation,” Cincinnati Health Commissioner Dr. Melba R. Moore says.

CityBeat explored many of those issues in a 2015 deep deep dive on the city's socioeconomic segregation.

That investigation found that of the city’s 10 neighborhoods with the lowest median household incomes, nine are more than 70-percent black. Six of those neighborhoods with considerable populations — The Villages at Roll Hill, Winton Hills, West End, Millvale, South Cumminsville and Avondale — are more than 90-percent black. Each of these neighborhoods has a median household income around half, or less, than the city’s median of about $34,000 a year. In these places, life expectancies are five to 10 years lower than in the city as a whole.

Meanwhile, the 10 wealthiest Cincinnati neighborhoods by median household income are the demographic flipside. Mount Lookout, Columbia Tusculum, Mount Adams, Hyde Park, California, Mount Washington and Sayler Park, for instance, are all more than 90-percent white and have median household incomes between $48,000 and $115,000 a year.

Moore says factors including obesity, smoking and lack of exercise also play a role. But systemic issues are a big part of the problem.

"The inequality in health in the United States — a country that spends more on health care than any other — is unacceptable," she says. "Every American, regardless of where they live or their background, deserves to live a long and healthy life. If we allow trends to continue as they are, the gap will only widen between neighborhoods.” 

The Cincinnati Health Department has been holding community information sessions about the data it has collected around life expectancy in the city. 

It held one Feb. 29 at Westwood Town Hall, another March 4 at the College Hill Recreation Center and a third March 9 at the Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale. 

Another session was planned in Madisonville March 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Madisonville Recreation Center, but that session has been postponed. 

Madisonville experienced the largest drop in life expectancy of any Cincinnati neighborhood measured. A previous analysis of data between 2001 and 2009 showed that Madisonville had an average life expectancy of 83 years. The newer analysis, done on data between 2007 and 2015, shows that life expectancy there dipped 11 years to 72 years on average.

It wasn't the only neighborhood to lose ground. Overall, the city's average life expectancy ticked down slightly, from 76.7 years to 76.1 years — three years less than the national average. 

Some neighborhoods did increase, though. The East End, for example, had the largest rise in life expectancy, going from 73 years to 76 years on average.

Addressing the issues that cause residents of some Cincinnati neighborhoods to live shorter lives than their fellow city dwellers just a couple miles away will be complicated, health officials say, and will likely take a huge collaborative effort. 

"There are a lot of moving parts, and the fact that it’s so expansive and involves so many factors and causes of death, means we need to examine root causes and possible contributing trends to the change,” Cincinnati Health Department Supervising Epidemiologist Dr. Maryse Amin says. “We want to utilize this data to guide the health of the community and lead to a call to action."

Amin points to the city's Community Health Improvement Plan, a strategy to push toward better health outcomes in the city's lower-income neighborhoods. The 2020 plan was released in February. It focuses on four priorities: behavioral and mental health, food and nutrition access, infant mortality and access to health care.

"This plan is a long-term, systematic effort to address public health problems based on the results of community health assessment activities and the community health improvement process," he says.

You can see a map of each Cincinnati neighborhood's life expectancy here. 

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