Walk a few blocks through Amara’s neighborhood and it’s almost as if you’ve left New York City behind. Stray dogs and escaped chickens roam the dusty streets and many of the houses are abandoned; piles of rubble and trash are strewn around in the tall weeds that start where the pavement ends. This place is where Amara was born, and it has been her home for the past 12 years. Unfortunately, the simple fact that this giggly, bright middle schooler lives in this zip code will determine a lot about her health and how her life unfolds.
Babies born in Amara’s neighborhood are more likely than other New Yorkers to receive late or no prenatal care, to be born preterm, to be born to teen mothers—and even to die as infants. And things don’t get easier as they grow older. Amara and her friends are more likely than kids from other neighborhoods to be chronically absent from school; they’re often kept home by health problems such as uncontrolled asthma.
Staying healthy here isn’t easy. There are no grocery stores at all, let alone stores that sell healthy food. And finding safe places to exercise is difficult. The assault rate in this neighborhood is about twice as high as in the rest of the city, which makes many families, including Amara’s, opt to keep their kids inside. Many homes also have black mold and rat and roach infestations, which can have serious health consequences. As a result, compared with other New Yorkers, Amara’s neighbors are more likely to be obese, to have diabetes, and to be hospitalized for alcohol, drugs, stroke, or mental health problems. Not surprisingly, given all these grim statistics, they are about 40% more likely to die prematurely than the average New Yorker.