A new snapshot of health indicators shows disparities across Eastern Jackson County as factors from education to poverty play into how long and well people live.
In “Place Matters: Life Expectancy in Eastern Jackson County,” the Jackson County Health Department looks at health factors broken down by ZIP Code.
“The results are sobering,” writes county Health Director Bridgette Casey. In particular, the county notes, it’s striking that a ZIP Code with one of the lowest numbers – 64138 in southern Raytown and eastern KC, with a life expectancy of 73.3 – is not far from 64086 in Lee’s Summit and Lake Lotawana with a life expectancy of 81.1.
“There exists a 7.8-year difference in life expectancy between the people living in these two geographies even though they live within a few miles of each other,” the report says.
The report covers the county other than Kansas City and Independence (those cities have their own health departments), though Independence figures are available. Five leading causes of death in EJC, the report says, are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, lung cancer and stroke.
Officials are quick to point out that life expectancy is not an average of ages at death but rather a measure of probabilities in a population.
“It’s really a fundamental measure of the health of a population,” Casey said in an interview.
The report put it this way: “A higher life expectancy can be attributed to a number of factors, including improved lifestyle, better education, higher income and greater access to healthcare.”
Adding the Independence ZIP Codes sketches the outlines of the issues and challenges:
• Several ZIP Codes fall short of the statewide average of 77.2 years.
Zip Code 64053 (the corner of Independence north and east of Mount Washington Cemetery) is at 72.3, 64054 (Sugar Creek) is at 74.5, 64050 (Independence north of 23rd Street from Missouri 291 west to Sugar Creek) is at 74.7, 64016 (Buckner, Sibley) is at 75, and 64052 (Independence south of Truman Road and west of Crysler Avenue) is at 75.4.
• Some ZIP Codes are at or just above the state average, including 64014 (Blue Springs east of Missouri 7) at 77.2, 64056 (the Susquehanna and Lake City area of Independence) at 77.5, and 64015 (Blue Springs west of M-7) at 77.8.
• Some ZIP Codes are a little higher but shy of the national average – 64075 (Oak Grove) at 78.4, 64063 (Lee’s Summit) at 78.5, 64058 (Independence north of Kentucky Road and east of M-291) at 78.8, and 64057 (eastern Independence) at 78.9.
• Grain Valley, 64029, is right at the national average, 79.1
• A handful of ZIP Codes are higher yet, including 64055 (south Independence) at 79.7 and six areas in Lee’s Summit, Grandview and Greenwood at 80.2 or higher.
The aim of the report, according to Casey and Ray Dlugolecki, health promotions manager for the county Health Department, is to contribute to a broader conversation about the things individuals and communities can do.
“We looking at the bigger-picture issues,” Dlugolecki said, adding that collaboration among all the parties involved is essential in making improvements.
Those issues can include crime, education and what the report calls an economic hardship index, which includes the number of people living in poverty, the number of people living in crowded housing, and the number of people with jobs. All can affect health and longevity.
One example: “Studies have shown that remaining life expectancy at age 25, an important overall indicator of adult population health, is approximately a decade shorter for people who do not have a high school degree compared with those who have completed college,” the report says.
What to do? The report has many suggestions for communities and individuals.
For starters, eat well and be active. Green spaces are good for exercise and play. Zoning can affect access to healthy food. Schools can be open to community use for exercise. Employers can offer wellness programs.
The list goes on: Keep neighborhoods safe, promote social and civic engagement, keep tobacco out of the hands of young people, help tobacco users quit, limit access to alcohol, take stronger measures against drug abuse, and address the stigmas around mental illness and make mental health care more widely available.
The report also talks to individuals. A key focus is that many need to lose weight.
“Obesity is one of the greatest contributors to chronic disease and increased mortality …” the report says.
Also, focus on preventive medicine; avoid tobacco; make sure your family members get their shots; brush, floss and get dental checkups – and reduce stress.
The county plans to keep doing these reports over time.
“It’s really about laying the groundwork for collaboration,” Dlugolecki said.
“It’s about giving each community equal opportunity and access for health,” Casey added. “We want people to have that.”