Some prioritize crime rates, school ratings and amenities when moving to a new neighborhood. Others stay in the same town they grew up in or go wherever they can afford the cost of living. Yet, many forget to consider the adverse effects of their surroundings. Where you live can significantly impact your health and wellbeing physically, mentally and socially.
A rural area might boast sweeping fields and picturesque farms but grapple with contaminated drinking water from agricultural waste. Meanwhile, despite close proximity to employment and entertainment opportunities, cities often have poorer air quality. Look at how your zip code predicts your health and the actions you can take to make changes.
Do You Live In A Healthy Neighborhood?
When determining whether you live in a healthy neighborhood, it’s essential to consider the built, social and natural environments. Built environments entail housing, food access, infrastructure and transportation. Meanwhile, social environments pertain to social classes, a caring community, health care and crime.
The natural environment may get overlooked unless you dream of moving somewhere warm and tropical. Besides climate, it also comprises access to green spaces, pollution and exposure to environmental threats.
For example, the American Lung Association lists Bakersfield, California and Phoenix, Arizona, among the most polluted cities in the United States, each place heavily impacted by ozone and particulate matter. According to one study, exposure to ambient air pollution may cause life expectancy to drop by 1.8 years globally.
Those living along coastlines have other health concerns to contend with. Hurricanes, heavy precipitation and flooding can cause severe damage to homes. When water accumulates around your property, it can penetrate the foundation and enter the house, leading to respiratory issues from mold and mildew growth.
Specific neighborhoods also lend themselves to racial disparities. For instance, people of color may disproportionately cluster in environments with high crime, noise pollution, low-income housing and hazardous facilities, putting them at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Industrial factories, chemical plants and power plants are usually front and center in these communities. With over 2,000 power stations nationwide, some studies even suggest living near electromagnetic fields may increase one’s risk of cancer. Evidence has shown the same outcomes for those residing close to fracking sites, especially communities with higher poverty rates.
How You Can Make Your Zip Code Healthier
Of course, you want your neighborhood to be as healthy as possible. Taking action is the surest way to boost your zip code’s health for you and everyone else. Here are a few things you can do to make a difference.
Maintain Your Home
Perform the necessary maintenance and upgrades to ensure your household is safe from the elements. Have your foundation and roof inspected, seal air leaks around windows and doors, and change the air filters every three months for improved indoor air quality. Little improvements go a long way in keeping your home healthy.
You must use your voice to see change in your community. Vote for local politicians whose priorities include building a healthier city. Then, attend town council meetings to share your concerns and suggestions.
For instance, food insecurity is 12.1% in rural areas — 1.6% higher than other households. Your advocacy can help bring in a more nutritious food supply. Petitioning to halt operations at a hazardous plant can also protect your community from adverse health impacts.
Volunteer With Local Non-Profits
Joining a local non-profit’s efforts to improve your neighborhood’s health is another way to get involved. Non-profits have numerous resources you can utilize as you work to implement change. Remember — there is power in numbers, so look for environmental organizations or those encouraging social activism.
Participate In Clean-Ups
Do you live near urban green spaces or a coastline? Consider joining a clean-up program at a park or beach. If none are scheduled in your area, you can organize your own with the local Parks and Recreation or Public Works departments.
Healthy As A Way Of Living
Creating a healthy environment to reside in begins with making sounder choices on an individual level. It also depends on your choice of residence. Always consider the built, social and natural environments before deciding where to live.
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.