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In Richmond, life expectancy can vary by up to 20 years

This image is a cityscape of Richmond, Virginia. The building at the far left of the photo stands much taller than others around it. Some cars are driving on the street below it.
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VPM News Focal Point
A VCU study sheds light on the disparity in life expectancy outcomes within Richmond.

According to a VCU study, there's a sea of disparity in life expectancy outcomes within Richmond. Residents that are separated by only a few miles will on average have a 20-year life expectancy gap. 



A.J. NWOKO: They say age is just a number but according to a VCU study, the time we're afforded in life can be greatly affected by where we live. And unfortunately, here in the River City, there's a sea of disparity in life expectancy outcomes within a very small radius.

A.J. NWOKO: Leaf blowing isn't exactly what Alan Cooper would call exercise, but the 76-year-old admits it does help to keep him active.

ALAN COOPER: I do go cycle, work the yard a little bit.

A.J. NWOKO: The ease at which Cooper can live his lifestyle is just one of the many reasons he says he enjoys his Westover Hills neighborhood and areas like it.

ALAN COOPER: You can walk to a decent neighborhood grocery store. You can walk to very nice restaurants. There’s a drug store you can walk to.

A.J. NWOKO: But life in the hills is often more convenient than the reality experienced just a few miles north.

JERRY CUNNINGHAM: That’s an experience you don’t want bruh.

A.J. NWOKO: Jerry Cunningham will tell you.

JERRY CUNNINGHAM: They ain't got the killing and all this going on.

A.J. NWOKO: The 57-year-old says he's lived in the city's public housing system much of his life.

JERRY CUNNINGHAM: I do what I’ve gotta do.

A.J. NWOKO: But he laments that in Gilpin, access to basic needs are hard to come by.

JERRY CUNNINGHAM: In the project, if it ain't no money, it ain't going to survive.

A.J. NWOKO: These stark differences between Gilpin Court, Westover Hills and other areas of Richmond are particularly concerning to VCU Health's, Dr. Derek Chapman.

DEREK CHAPMAN: We identified a 20-year gap in life expectancy just four and a half miles apart between an area around the Gilpin Court in the north side of Richmond and Westover Hills.

A.J. NWOKO: The society and health researcher knows this because of a life expectancy map he and his team helped develop using a combination of data from local health agencies, the CDC and the U.S. Census Bureau, which gives insights on how where you live can affect your health.

DEREK CHAPMAN: It can influence your health directly by exposing you to violence, or exposing you to contaminated water, or polluted air. But it also can limit your access to good paying jobs and quality education, and limit your choices, limit your availability of healthy food options or places to exercise.

A.J. NWOKO: From this study, Westover Hills recorded the highest average life expectancy in Richmond at 83 years. But that same map shows Gilpin Court at just 63.

DEREK CHAPMAN: And we found those large gaps in life expectancy everywhere we looked, all across the country.

A.J. NWOKO: For folks like Cooper...

ALAN COOPER: It disappoints me. I would like to think that most folks are able to live a good life well into their 70s and 80s. And it’s disappointing that some don’t.

A.J. NWOKO: But for Cunningham...

JERRY CUNNINGHAM: In my heart I think I’m better than this.

A.J. NWOKO: And Dr. Chapman agrees.

DEREK CHAPMAN: Just because you live in a neighborhood that has an overall lower life expectancy or you’re in a population group with higher risk for a disease like diabetes doesn’t mean you're destined to have that outcome.

A.J. NWOKO: Chapman believes the lessons from this study can be applied beyond improving one’s individual health.

DEREK CHAPMAN: You need to start looking, we call upstream at the policies and drivers, the social determinants of health that are above and beyond individuals’ control.

A.J. NWOKO: For VPM News, I'm A.J. Nwoko.

Learn more about VCU Center of Society and Health’s Life Expectancy Map


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