Where You Live Matters to Your Health

Where You Live Matters to Your Health

Where You Live Matters to Your Health

Lee esto en EspañolCan the closest grocery store where you live have an impact on how long you live? What about having a way to get there? Sometimes it’s more than illness or injury that can impact your health.

It’s dinnertime. You’d like to make a healthy meal for you and your family. Grilled chicken, some greens, and your mom’s famous mashed potatoes. But the only place nearby to get food is a convenience store stocked with instant noodles, chips, sugary drinks, and processed food. 

Or maybe you live in a rural community, the closest supermarket is 10 miles away and you don’t own a car. So you stock up on frozen TV dinners rather than fresh foods.

This is something many people face in the U.S. every day. 

An area with limited access to healthy foods is called a food desert. Living in a food desert can contribute to the chance of a person not living a long and healthy life.

These 5 Things

There are 5 issues the CDC says are social determinants of health in the U.S. This means they are conditions in the places “where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age” that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. 

They are:

  1. Health Care Access and Quality. Issues such as access to health care, access to primary care, insurance coverage, and health literacy.
  2. Education Access and Quality. Issues such as grade level, languages spoken, reading literacy, and early childhood development and education.
  3. Social Community and Context. Topics related to the sense of community, civic participation, discrimination, conditions in the workplace, and incarceration.
  4. Economic Stability. Key issues such as poverty, employment, food security, and housing stability.
  5. Neighborhood and Build Environment. Topics like quality of housing, access to transportation, availability of healthy foods, air and water quality, and neighborhood crime and violence.
The Impact on Health

When one or any combination of these issues affect a person, it can lead to what are called health disparities. 

These disparities could be based on:

  • racial or ethnic group
  • religion
  • socioeconomic status
  • gender
  • age
  • mental health
  • cognitive, sensory, or physical disability
  • sexual orientation or gender identity
  • geographic location

Living in a food desert is just one example of a social determinate of health. Neighborhoods with high crime rates might affect a person’s mental health or their ability to safely go outside for some exercise. 

What about those who live in rural parts of the state?  This might affect how far a person is from the care they need and whether they can keep up with their regular appointments, screenings, and immunizations.

Experts say that eliminating these health disparities would save the U.S. billions of dollars a year in direct health care costs and over a trillion in indirect costs.

For example, U.S. public health and medical data have helped researchers show that reducing disparities in asthma treatment in Black workers by just 10% would save over $1,600 each year per patient in medical costs and costs associated with missed work.

Closing Gaps in Health Equity

Health equity is a term that refers to everyone having an equal shot at living their healthiest lives, regardless of their background, education or where they live.  When people are affected by health disparities, it creates gaps in health equity. 

The U.S. still has a long way to go in closing the gaps that lead to health inequity.  The effort requires broad policy and public health collaboration with health care and community partners.

As one of those partners, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) focuses on doing our part to close gaps in health equity in the communities we serve. 

  • Our chief medical officers and their teams work alongside other medical and community experts to keep the conversation about health disparities going, to better understand the different health outcomes of affected groups.
  • Business Resource Groups made up of BCBSIL employees of diverse backgrounds provide valuable insight and understanding into differing cultural norms and issues that affect different social groups, including minorities, the disabled and the LGBTQ community.
  • BCBSIL also provides grants and resources to local charity and community groups that address things like affordable housing, victims of domestic abuse, food insecurities, and access to health care.
  • Our Care Van® program helps get vaccines and health screenings to rural and underserved communities in Illinois.
  • Last year BCBSIL worked with six community-based organizations working to improve maternal health outcomes on Chicago’s South and West Side neighborhoods.

You can learn more about how BCBSIL is helping local communities in our Corporate Social Responsibility report.

Have you faced challenges in areas of your life and environment that have made it difficult to take care of your health?

Sources:  About Social Determinants of Healthleaving site icon CDC, 2021; Health Equity, leaving site icon CDC, 2022; Social Determinants of Health, leaving site icon health.gov, 2022; Access to Healthy Food: A Key Focus for Research on Domestic Food Insecurity, leaving site icon U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010; The Cost of Racial Disparities in Health Care, leaving site icon Harvard Business Review, 2015; Estimating the economic burden of racial health inequalities in the United States, leaving site icon U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2011; Disparities, leaving site icon healthypeople.gov, 2022