17 February, 2021

LifeScore - How location matters for Life and Health

- Pallavi Shastry and Sahana Subramanian

LifeScore - How location matters for Life and Health

You must have heard the cliché “Location location location!” with regard to real estate. But that cliché can extend to health too. Where you live matters a great deal if you care about your health. It should not come as a surprise that proximity and accessibility to parks, gyms, cycling tracks, trekking routes, among others can determine your fitness and health goals. But there is also an increasing recognition that, there are some other intangible attributes of your location that also matter for your quality of life, and mental and physical health. They are the level of community engagement in your locality, the connectedness that you have with your neighbors, the density of social cultural and other interactions and the willingness of neighbors to help each other etc. etc. All of these play a significant role in your life journey.

What is a LifeScore?

Bubble LifeScores are county-level indicators, based on all the factors mentioned above. They reflect the local population’s life expectancy, quality of life and overall health prospects. The scores are gender and age specific with higher scores indicating better life and health outlook for that gender and age group, relative to other counties. Now that we have the heavy-duty technical stuff out of the way, let’s understand how the LifeScore can help you assess your locality’s life and health profile.

Let’s look at it county-wise, shall we?

The LifeScore of a woman aged between 35-45 in Santa Clara, CA is 942 (The cores range from 600 to 950). There are some underlying location-specific factors that contribute to this score, the most important of which happens to be a high median income. The county also enjoys good community engagement including volunteering and recreational group activities which are known to boost overall physical and mental well-being. A high LifeScore like this also reflects the overall community’s health - their access to exercising opportunities, lower mental distress and excellent primary care, which lead to better patient outcomes and a lower mortality rate. In general, the people in this county lead a healthy lifestyle overall.

But there’s only so much one can do about the county they live in (you could pick up your life and move, but we’ll save that for another day). What if there aren’t any trekking routes for the outdoorsy people? What if there aren’t any outlets around for the gym rats?

To drive home the point of location influencing the health and lifestyle of people, let’s look at the LifeScore of a woman in the same age group (35-45) in Lake County, CA which is 767.. A lower LifeScore means higher health risks – directly or indirectly. Our data show that it has much lower median income, and there is a lower rate of physical activity in Lake County as opposed to Santa Clara. It has long been known that preventive healthcare and exercising is a more practical and feasible approach leading to significant health benefits. The county also ranks low on social factors, such as community connectedness, family support and safety. The two examples indicate how the location can impact a person’s physical and mental well-being which ultimately influences one’s overall health and lifestyle.

Men are at similar or more risk than women. From the time they’re out of their diapers it begins. Men die at an average of 5 years earlier than women (sorry, guys). They take the lead in most leading causes of death. Not to scare you or anything – but decades' worth of studies on this subject have been consistently telling us this. Again, all the more reason to buckle down and get healthy. Be it cycling for 30 minutes, a trek on the weekend, or simply a walk in the park – if where you live has any of these opportunities, it’s time to get cracking.

Although everyone, including the youth are prone to lifestyle-based diseases, they also have the opportunity to build good health and take preventive measures. Have you tried yoga? As we observed previously, living in the vicinity of places with high LifeScores confers benefits with lower health and life risks, provided you take advantage of them. This does not imply that those who live in places with lower scores are condemned to an unhealthy life. We are on the verge of several lifestyle-related disease epidemics including diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers. Regardless of gender, age or location, the only way to battle them is to get on the road - literally, if you’d like to run - to better health. Be it actively or preventatively, all of us can forge our way to a long and healthy life!