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Health, life spans and neighborhoods

Health, life spans and neighborhoods

Picture of Suzanne Bohan

On Sunday, a four-part series a year in the making runs in the Bay Area News Group. As the science reporter for the chain, I teamed with health reporter Sandy Kleffman to report and write this series.

As Sandy detailed in a separate blog post on this site, the series is based on remarkable data gathered by the Alameda County Public Health Department, showing a stunning difference in disease rates and life expectancy among residents in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California, based on where they live. We describe how it is that socioeconomic status can play such a powerful role - far more than health care services - in influencing health and life spans.

The third day of the series, running Dec. 13, profiles a groundbreaking, long-term project run by the Alameda County Public Health Department to improve conditions in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood with the lowest life expectancy in either county. And it focuses on building up the inherent strengths in the community. The final article in the series, running Dec. 14, examines a subject that's sometimes a flashpoint in this issue - the role of personal responsibility in one's own health, versus external conditions. We also look at the role of health care reform in addressing these health disparities.

The series will run this Sunday and Monday, and Dec. 13 and Dec. 14. It can be viewed at and

We will also have a live Web chat at noon on Monday, Dec. 7, with Dr. Anthony Iton, the former Alameda County public health director who is now senior vice president for health communities with the California Endowment, and Larry Adelman, creator and executive producer of "Unnatural Causes," a documentary series about health inequities broadcast by PBS.

The Bay Area News Group is 650,000-circulation chain of daily newspapers, including the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury News.

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