Report: Life expectancy varies greatly across Duluth and Minnesota
Location matters, we're told, and it can even play a role in how long we can expect to live.
Health policy leaders in Duluth long have called attention to disparities in life expectancies in Duluth neighborhoods — 11 years less Lincoln Park and Central Hillside neighborhoods than in more affluent eastern neighborhoods.
But new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fine tunes those numbers to much narrower geographic districts known as Census tracts. The results largely confirm what already was known, but show even greater disparities — Duluth residents can expect to live 66 to 90 years depending on where they were born.
It's significant information for understanding a community's health and how it can be improved overall, said Don Schwarz, a senior vice president with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"It gives people a perspective on what are the chances that a baby has of living a healthy life based on where that baby is being brought up," he said. "And I think it relates directly to the question of: Is it fair? Is it fair that the child on the left side of the street has less chance of a long and healthy life than a child on the right side of the street?"
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on healthy equity issues, introduced a tool this week that allows people to enter their own address and learn the life expectancy for their census tract, along with comparable figures for their county and state. The U.S. average life expectancy is just under 79 years.
The data reveal surprising numbers, at least in the Northland. It does show the discrepancies that previously have been reported — a 69-year life expectancy at a Lincoln Park address versus 81 years at an Endion address and 83 years at a Congdon Park address.
But there are counterintuitive numbers as well. The tool shows a 66-year life expectancy in Park Point, a neighborhood where houses currently are listed for sale at $345,000 and higher. The highest expected lifespan in Duluth is 90, in the Woodland neighborhood.
But those numbers, particularly for Park Point, should be looked at skeptically, said Tracy Bibelnieks, an assistant professor in the Swenson College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Bibelnieks completed a similar study for St. Louis County alone in the spring, but combined data from Park Point with similar census tracts because the number of Park Point residents was too small to provide statistically meaningful results, she said.
Anomalies can occur because the sample sizes are relatively small, Schwarz agreed. But the vast majority of the numbers confirm the idea of haves and have-nots when it comes to life expectancy. It also reinforces the need to respond, he said.
"The divisions that we have, largely by wealth and by color, in this country are something that we could address," Schwarz said. "And there are a lot of things that people are doing."
In the Lincoln Park neighborhood, one longtime goal has been to bring in a grocery store to provide healthier food choices, said Jodi Slick, executive director of the nonprofit Ecolibrium3. Another is to work with residents toward healthier housing.
"Is there radon in that house?" she asked. "Is there lead in that house? Do we have carbon monoxide detectors in that house? Do we have smoke alarms? Those are all things that can extend somebody's life."
The lowest Census tract-level life expectancy in Minnesota is just under 65 years, according to the data. The highest is just under 92 years. The average is just under 81 years.
Somewhere in North Carolina, there's a Census tract with a life expectancy of 97½ years, according to the data. The shortest life expectancy nationally is a little more than 56 years, in Oklahoma.
All of this excludes Wisconsin and Maine, for which data were not yet available.
News Tribune staffers who plugged addresses into the website's interactive tool found some quirks. A couple of staffers got a note saying their address was valid but couldn't be matched to a census tract — which is due to incomplete data from the CDC. And although Wisconsin supposedly isn't included, one North End Superior resident received a life expectancy result of 78.
The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics worked with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in developing the resource.
See for yourself
Enter your address on the life expectancy tool at rwjf.org/lifeexpectancy.