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Steep cost of poverty in the Finger Lakes: A decline of health and life expectancy

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  • Josh Durso 

The Finger Lakes region is known for its picturesque landscapes and tourism, but a silent crisis is unfolding. A recent report by Common Ground Health, supported by data from the New York State Department of Health Vital Statistics, reveals a distressing three-year drop in life expectancy, from an average of 80.5 years in 2013 to 77.3 years by 2021. This decline mirrors a national trend but is particularly poignant in the Finger Lakes, where it underscores the profound impact of poverty on health.

The study’s findings are a clarion call to the interwoven fate of socioeconomic status and health outcomes. Residents of zip codes with the lowest socioeconomic status see significantly shorter life spans, with a staggering 9.2-year gap in life expectancy compared to their counterparts in more affluent areas.

This decline in life expectancy is the culmination of multiple factors, including increased deaths from drug overdoses, homicide, heart disease, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, at the root of these causes lies the pervasive issue of poverty. “Poverty is a public health issue,” said Christine Wagner, special advisor at St. Joseph’s Neighborhood Center in another Commonground Health report. “We’ve got to get past the stigma. Being in poverty is not a personal choice, it is a set of circumstances that are generally externally generated. Your social status directly feeds into income and wealth, which directly impacts your health and, ultimately, population health.”

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As the Finger Lakes region grapples with these findings, it’s clear that addressing the root causes of health inequities—such as poverty—requires a multifaceted approach. Investments in education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunities are critical. Moreover, the community’s engagement in understanding and acting upon these issues is paramount.

The Finger Lakes’ struggle with declining life expectancy and deepening health disparities is a microcosm of a broader national challenge. Yet, it also represents an opportunity for collective action and innovation in public health, social policy, and community engagement.