When it comes to health, it’s not just about getting to the doctor and taking medications. Research increasingly shows us that where you live impacts your health. Whether in a big city or in a rural area, short distances to gaps in health can exist due to factors like transportation, affordable housing, clean air, and access to child care.

This week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center of Society and Health released two new maps looking at large health gaps in the Raleigh-Durham area and along a mostly rural stretch along U.S. Rte. 64 in North Carolina. The maps reveal the dramatic disparities in life expectancy by highlighting that a baby born in Southeast Raleigh can expect to live an average of 12 fewer years than those born just a few zip codes up Highway 540.



Though the data in no way tells the entire story of health in North Carolina, RWJF and VCU have created these maps to drive a conversation that leads to action. They underscore how important it is for community partners to promote health and economic revitalization of neighborhoods. In

North Carolina, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trusts is investing $100 million over a decade in a dozen rural counties through its Healthy Places NC initiative. The effort includes two counties featured on the new maps, Nash and Edgecombe Counties, where one in 5 adults say they are in poor health. By comparison, in Wake County, home to the city of Raleigh, one in 10 adults say they are in poor health.

The health differences shown in the map aren’t unique to the Raleigh-Durham areas or nearby rural counties. In fact, they are not unique to any big city, small town or rural area, but a pattern found across America. With this evidence, we cannot underestimate the importance of building healthy communities. There is no easy solution, but because the health of neighborhoods is shaped by a web of factors, everyone has a role to play – from residents to policymakers.

To read more about life expectancy maps in North Carolina, check out these articles:

Short distances to large gaps in health in North Carolina – News and Observer

Study: Life expectancy varies by ZIP code in the Triangle – News and Observer

New Maps Show Differences in Life Expectancy – North Carolina Health News

Maps Show Life Expectancy Varies Between Nearby NC Zip CodesWUNC: North Carolina Public Radio

In addition to these North Carolina maps, VCU and RWJF previously released maps of New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Richmond. Additionally, in 2013 the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America released similar maps of Washington, DC, New Orleans, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and the San Joaquin Valley in California, most of them prepared by VCU. In the coming months, 14 additional maps will be released for cities and rural areas across the country. View the maps at societyhealth.vcu.edu/maps. Follow the discussion on Twitter at #CloseHealthGaps.