Does your neighborhood doom you to an early death?

As health care providers, we can work hard to provide good care and even advocate for expanded access to health care, but that there are a myriad of other greater factors that contribute to people dying early. Those factors aren’t within any individual’s control; they that can only be addressed by the larger society. But as a culture it seems like we’ve decided that we’re okay with not addressing environmental factors, which means we’re okay with T.S’s baby having a life expectancy that is almost a decade less than a baby born the next neighborhood over.

These geographic health disparities aren’t just happening in Philadelphia. Late last month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a set of maps that reveal the startling differences in life expectancies among people in major American cities, including New Orleans, Kansas City, Mo., and Washington, D.C.

The RWJF website calls the maps “conversation starters,” and from a policy standpoint that makes great sense. But as a health care provider working long term in areas we call “at risk” (a not very kind euphemism for “under-resourced,”) I do wish the fact that we let so much of our population die so young were a conversation stopper instead.