Shoppers browsing vegetables at a farmers market. Pixabay
According to a recent report, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia have the worst health in the U.S. These states have higher rates of premature deaths, chronic diseases and poor health behaviors year after year.
Why are people in some places in the U.S. consistently less healthy than those in others? If you look to health and fitness magazines, it may seem like poor diet, lack of exercise and other bad behaviors are to blame. Genetics and access to health care are also commonly cited reasons for why some people are healthier than others.
But where a person lives, works and plays also matters. As a public health researcher interested in how society affects our health, my research shows where you live plays a powerful role on your health.
Public health experts often talk about the “social determinants of health”: community traits like housing quality, access to nutritious and fresh food, water and air quality, education quality and employment opportunities. These factors are thought to be among the most powerful influences on a person’s health.
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia also share a similar economic environment. Data from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), a bipartisan public policy organization in D.C., shows that these states are the top five most economically distressed states in the U.S.
In fact, Alabama and Mississippi have the highest shares of people living in distressed zip codes.