NEWS DAY | Your life, your health, your zip code

“Tell me your zip code and I’ll tell you how long you are going to live.” Four years ago, at an Annenberg conference in California, that statement came as a shock. Not any more.

Health and illness are in the news with the looming March 31 deadline for signing up for the Affordable Care Act. I've been writing about health, and so have our Daily Planet reporters and media partners. Want to know more?

• Erin Elizabeth Collins Salinas wrote about a “cultural disconnect” in the black community when it comes to health care, and the Stairstep Foundation's work with black churches to get people connected through the Affordable Care Act. (Here's a complete list of MNsure information and sign-up events all over the state.)

• In my News Day column, I write about how your zip code predicts mortality. That's because it also tells how you're living right now, or more precisely — your zip code correlates to your income. Poor communities have less access to hospitals and health care, fewer grocery stores, high rates of pollution. They have less access to parks, fewer safe places to walk or jog, fewer swimming pools and health clubs. People with lower income have to work more hours. They are subject to a hundred stresses that diminish both quality of life and longevity. 

• Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota's health commissioner, is leading an effort to focus on health inequities, especially race-based inequities. In his introduction to the MDH February report to the legislature, he tells a personal story about going to a Green Bay Packer game with his dad back in 1953. He saw the team's only black football player, the first black man he had ever seen. Afterward he asked his dad about it.

"I remember specifically what my dad said. 'He’s a Negro and he comes from Detroit. He’s allowed to live in Green Bay only during the football season. Then he has to leave. While he’s here, he has to live in a cabin behind Kroll’s (a restaurant near the edge of town).'

"To me, that did not seem fair. My dad agreed but said, 'That’s the way things are right now. Let’s hope that they change in the future. Maybe your generation can do that.' ...

"[A]s my mother said when she heard of our conversation on the way home from the football game in 1953, 'Life can be unfair and unjust but it’s not unchangeable. If you want, you can help change what you saw today.' I share my mother’s perspective. We have been blessed with a great challenge and a great opportunity to advance health equity in Minnesota. I believe we are up to that challenge.

Jay Walljasper wrote in a Community Voices article about some very local efforts to improve health: the Cultural Wellness Center in Phillips neighborhood, and St. Paul's East Side Family Clinic. and Frogtown Farms. Walljasper sums it up:

"There is growing recognition in the medical field that maintaining good health means more than taking care of yourself and getting regular medical check ups. Healthy living conditions and strong community cohesion foster healthy neighborhoods, while inequality, discrimination, crime, pollution, traffic, isolation, and a sense of powerlessness contribute to disease. It’s difficult to improve people’s overall health without addressing the social, economic and racial issues where they live."

Behind the stories:


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    Mary Turck's picture
    Mary Turck

    Mary Turck (maryturck [at] gmail [dot] com) is a freelance writer, editor, teacher, and lifelong activist, and former editor of the TC Daily Planet.


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    Tell me your Zip Code

    You know Mary, I don't understand why this is suppose to be interesting or complex. Its the same ole, same ole.

    Healthcare, Medical Care, who get's it, why and where is not a puzzle.

    What would be great to see is reguarly examples of what health disparities look like. Not stats, the individual story. Identify what the disparity looks like during person to person interaction or person to instituition interaction. It still comes down to the same thing.

    You know Mary, what I've learned, is everything in life is about relationships. Health Inequities/Health Disparities is about a big bad broken relationship.

    So, Now! they say heathcare/medical care is tied to Zip Codes, No kidding.







    Same ole, same ole

    You're right - there's not a lot that's new. But there are a lot of people who still don't know it, or don't want to believe it, so I think it's important to keep on telling the story. 

    Healthcare and Zip Codes

    Yes telling stories is good, however I don't believe I have ever read a personal story about

    health inequties/health disparities. Mary, have you? val