By Meg Wingerter and Jim McLean, KMUW Wichita’s NPR Station
It isn’t far from the gleaming bank buildings and high-end hotels to the rent-to-own stores and corner shops that stock more chips than fruit.
A visitor getting off the highway in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, would pass by a Hilton Garden Inn and several high-rise buildings bearing the names of financial companies.
But a few blocks across the Seventh Street Trafficway, the storefronts become more worn down and the food options narrow to McDonald’s and the One Stop Shop, where the only vegetables are jarred tomato sauce and canned jalapenos.
To the east of Seventh Street, the average resident dies around age 72, according to a new study of health disparities in Wyandotte County. Cross the street, however, and that average drops to 59. The next-closest community where most people live into their 70s is west of Interstate 635, about four miles away.
Wyandotte County consistently ranks near the bottom of Kansas counties on health outcomes, despite sharing a border with Johnson County, which usually comes in first or second. Even within Wyandotte County, however, a person’s address can have a serious effect on his health.
Few jobs in Kansas City’s northeastern neighborhoods pay middle-class wages, and residents have limited options for buying healthy food or getting some exercise, said Broderick Crawford, executive director of NBC Community Development Corporation and a longtime community volunteer. All of those factors contribute to unhealthy stresses on residents, he said.
“You have parents and grandparents that are stressing over paying the rent, buying medicine, providing for the kids,” he said.