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Life expectancy ranges 18 years between Canfield and Youngstown's North Side

The average resident of Canfield will live to be close to 83, a new study indicates. In a section of Youngstown's North Side, however, average life expectancy is younger than 65.

YOUNGSTOWN — Less than 15 miles separate those with the highest and the lowest life expectancies in Mahoning County.

An average resident of Canfield, where the poverty rate is just 6.1 percent, will live to be just shy of 83 years old, according to a report published Dec. 9 by The Center for Community Solutions.

In downtown Youngstown, however, nearly half of residents live in poverty. In a section of the North Side, residents' life expectancy is just under 65 years old, according to the report.

The report shows that as poverty levels by census tract increase, life expectancy decreases.

"When you live in a community that has higher poverty rates, there are other things that come along with that that are likely to impact your health," said Kate Warren, a center research associate.

Ohio's lowest life expectancy numbers can be found in the area's with the most poverty — the state's urban cores and Appalachian region.

In studying the close proximity of areas with sizable gaps in life expectancy, Warren identified the significance of 20th century housing policies, such as redlining -- the practice of denying housing based on biases like race or income -- that contributed to segregation of cities.

"I think a lot of these structural things are leftover from a time in our history when we drew very explicit lines and said, 'We're not going to invest in these areas, because they're majority black or majority nonwhite,'" said Warren.

Life expectancy is affected by access to safe and affordable housing, nutritious food and a job that pays a living wage, Warren said.

The Rev. Lewis Macklin of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Youngstown said though the public sector reports economic bounce-back in some parts of the country, he still sees long lines of cars outside Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley before it's even opened.

"It says that issues like food security and poverty are still present," he told Mahoning Matters. "Not everyone has a silver spoon. Some people would be happy with a plastic spoon.

"I still get the phone calls [for] assistance — not the seasonal help," he said. "'We need assistance with rent, we need assistance with food' ... basic, life-sustaining needs."

Rev. Macklin said many caught in the poverty cycle spend their money to either "heat, eat or treat" — that is, either pay bills, buy food or seek medical care, but not all three.

And though the Affordable Care Act intended to expand healthcare access to the underserved or underemployed, some have still fallen "through the gaps," he said.

That's why Rev. Macklin said the National African American Male Wellness Walk, which he helps coordinate locally at the Covelli Centre, is important in correcting statistics seen in the Dec. 9 study.

Though the event directly targets black males — who often have worse health outcomes, Rev. Macklin said —he stressed anyone can take advantage of the walk's free access to wellness services like prostate cancer screenings, blood sugar tests, mammograms, dental care and more.

"There are folks that are really dependent on those services," he said. "It now grows itself. Folks plan for it, they expect it, they also plan events around it. ... If a family's having a reunion, they'll incorporate that into their plans."

The next Wellness Walk is slated for Aug. 8, 2020.

Addressing health disparities among neighborhoods requires a holistic approach. "It's more complicated than just making sure people have access to health care," said Warren.

That's what Mercy Health is trying to do for Youngstown's disparate communities. This requires a shift of focus from the quality of clinical care to an understanding of health behaviors.

Mercy Health's priorities for addressing the community's health needs are: cultural bias and inequity, access to care, transportation and housing.

"It's the asking, 'Why? Why are they living in this neighborhood? Why are they not employed?'" said Mercy's Director of Community Health Kurtis Williams. "When we ask that 'why?' and continue asking, it allows for more community involvement."

For example, Mercy Health partnered with the city's farmers markets in its fruit and vegetable prescription program, in which patients with limited access to healthy food can acquire vouchers for fresh produce.

"It's not a silver bullet. There's not going to be one resolution," said Mercy Health spokesperson Jonathon Fauvie. "This is a whole community that has to come together."

Rev. Macklin said communities should look to make community-centric resources — like smaller, regional chain grocers which have largely vanished in communities like Youngstown — more profitable, so they can survive and continue to serve their neighborhoods.

"We have to encourage and create opportunities where businesses say, 'I will invest in the communities where we serve'," he said. "You should not have to go outside the community to get what you need."