Babies Born Just Miles Apart Face Large Gaps in Life Expectancy

    • April 29, 2015
VCU Map shows the distances between the largest gaps in health in New York City.

Four maps released today illustrate that opportunities to lead a long and healthy life can vary dramatically by neighborhood in cities across the United States. The maps, created by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center on Society and Health with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), are the latest in a series developed to raise public awareness of the many factors that shape health—particularly social and economic factors.

The maps, which show life expectancy at birth, are intended to be a “conversation starter” to support the work of local officials and community organizations looking to address the many factors that shape health across a lifetime. The maps released today portray:

  • In Atlanta, life expectancy can differ by as much as 12 years between Buckhead and Northwestern.
  • In Chicago, life expectancy can differ by as much as 16 years between the seven “L” stops that separate The Loop from Washington Park.
  • In New York City, life expectancy can differ by nearly 10 years in the 6 subway stops that separate East Harlem from Murray Hill.
  • And in Richmond, life expectancy differs by 20 years in the 5.5 miles it takes to drive between Westover Hills and Gilpin and by 14 years in the 2.8 miles that separate Westover Hills and Swansboro.

Health differences between neighborhoods are rarely due to a single cause. A growing body of research shows that a complex web of factors influence health—opportunities for education and jobs, safe and affordable housing, availability of nutritious food and places for physical activity, clean air, and access to health care, child care, and social services.

“The health differences shown in these maps aren’t unique to one area. We see them in big cities, small towns, and rural areas across America,” said Derek Chapman, PhD, associate director for research, VCU Center on Society and Health. “Our goal is to help local officials, residents, and others understand that there’s more to health than merely health care and that improving health requires having a broad range of players at the table.”

In releasing the maps, VCU and RWJF pointed to local efforts to address the many factors that affect health including the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvement , the Healthy Chicago 2.0 initiative, the New York State Health Foundation’s Healthy Neighborhoods Fund initiative, and a new partnership involving the VCU Health System Virginia Coordinated Care program for the uninsured, the VCU Office of Health Innovation, the Richmond City Health District and the Institute for Public Health Innovation.

“To build a Culture of Health we must build a society where everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, has the opportunity to lead a fulfilling, productive and healthy life,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD. “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each community must chart its own course and everyone has a role to play for better health in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their schools and in their towns.”

VCU and RWJF released a map of Las Vegas in March 2015 and the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier American released similar maps prepared by VCU of Washington, DC, New Orleans, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and the San Joaquin Valley in California in 2013. In the coming months, 15 additional maps will be released for cities and rural areas across the country. View the maps at Follow the discussion on Twitter at #CloseHealthGaps.


About The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center on Society and Health

The VCU Center on Society and Health is an academic research center that studies the health implications of social factors—such as education, income, neighborhood and community environmental conditions, and public policy. Its mission is to answer relevant questions that can “move the needle” to improve the health of Americans. We present our work in formats and venues that are useful to decision-makers and change agents. The Center pursues these goals through collaboration with scholars in different disciplines at VCU and other institutions, and by nurturing partnerships with community, government, and private-sector stakeholders. Learn more at


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937