Residents across Baltimore can expect to live longer

Life expectancy grew in nearly every Baltimore neighborhood in the last six years, but a yawning gap still remains between the most disadvantaged and the wealthiest areas, according to data compiled by city health department officials.

The department looks at 60 indicators in clusters of neighborhoods every few years to draw both a larger picture of health and a specific idea of what public health issues officials and residents should tackle. The indicators include the rates of disease and infant mortality, demographic information, environmental factors such as the number of liquor stores, and socioeconomic measures such as poverty levels and incomes.

These neighborhood health profiles have provided an oft-cited talking point in public health circles about intractable disparities within the city — a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy between neighborhoods.

In the last report in 2011, the neighborhood at the bottom was Upton/Druid Heights, a storied African American enclave where a majority of residents now live in poverty. And the neighborhood at the top has been Roland Park, where residents tend to be wealthier and white.

This year, Upton/Druid Heights had one of the most dramatic gains in the past six years in average life expectancy at more than 5 years, to 68.2 years. Household incomes rose in the neighborhood, as did the number of kindergarteners ready for school and eight graders proficient in reading. The number of vacant lots also dropped.

But some measures worsened significantly in that neighborhood, including the unemployment rate and the number of families living in poverty.

Roland Park, in North Baltimore, still has household incomes about 6.5 times those in Upton/Druid Heights and 2.5 times the citywide average of $41,819. Life expectancy in Roland Park rose less than a year to 83.9 years.

The lowest life expectancy in the city in this year's report was in Clifton/Berea at 66.9 years, though residents in the East Baltimore community gained an average of two years over 2011. The highest life expectancy was in Cross-Country/Cheswolde, where residents could expect to live an average of 87 years, up about 4 years.

Dr. Leana Wen, city health commissioner, has often called the disparities between the wealthy and disadvantaged Baltimore neighborhoods one of the city's most pressing problems. She said the data collected in 2008 and 2011 helped steer community resources and efforts, and this new information will continue to inform decisions.

Since the last report, citywide life expectancy increased almost 2 years to 73.6 years, teen birth rates decreased by 35 percent and the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood dropped to 1 percent of those tested, from 3 percent. There were also increases in the unemployment rate, single-parent households, families living in poverty and vacant lots.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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