Midtown shows wide disparity in life expectancies; nutritional efforts could reduce gap

How long you live depends on where you live and is directly related to healthy eating and active living.

Speakers made that clear Tuesday in a report on progress of the Kansas City Community Health Improvement Plan.

The federally funded five-year plan is in its second year and focuses on improving health in Kansas City. Officials reported progress to the mayor and city manager.

Rex Archer, city health director, noted a chart that showed life expectancies within zip codes with populations of 5,000 or more. They ranged from 69 years to 85 years.

“We live in a city or county where unfortunately we can predict how long you are going to live based on the zip code you live in,” he said.

And seven of the top 10 causes of death are related to nutrition and diet or to a lack of physical activity, he said.

One Midtown zip code, 64109, is among the four codes where people die the youngest, at ages 70 or 69. Another Midtown code, 64112, is among five longest living areas, where expectancies range from 83 to 85.

Other Midtown codes, 64111 and 64110, are in the middle with life expectancies of 76 years.

Part of the problem is a lack of grocery stores and good nutrition in some areas and the plan is taking steps to combat that.

BrightFarms Inc. officials were in the city Tuesday looking at potential sites for a massive garden, said Kimiko Black Gilmore, assistant city manager.

In other cities, the firm has specialized in building hydroponic gardens on top of grocery stores, she said, but now is shifting to gardening operations that are close to areas that need fresh food.

City operations like the zoo and others also could contract to get fresh local produce from them and so could the corner stores that make up about 58 percent of the city’s grocery operations, Archer said.

In another effort, officials will work with one corner grocery store each in the Ivanhoe and Manheim Park neighborhoods to help them sell fresh produce and healthier food.

Pictures from a similar operation in St. Louis showed a corner store with a multi-level bin filled with fresh vegetables. Another shot there showed canned goods with bright labels identifying them as healthy.

If the approach works at those stores, Archer said, it can spread city wide.

Gilmore also said officials are considering another company that grows produce and other goods all year long, hydroponically in freight containers.

And the plan wants healthier food in vending machines citywide, even in city hall.

Councilman John Sharp dissed progress on that front.

“When I was last down on the 8th floor last week the only thing I saw healthy in any of the machines was water,” Sharp said.

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