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Wayne v. Washtenaw, a case of drastic health disparities

Ivan Baldivieso/Flickr

Men who live on one side of Rawsonville Rd. have a life expectancy that's six years longer than men on the other side.

In fact, the life expectancy for males in Washtenaw County is the equivalent of Switzerland, while in Wayne County it's the equivalent of Syria. 

Ron French is a contributing writer for Bridge Magazine, and recently published a story about the health disparities between Wayne and Washtenaw counties, and spoke with us about what he found.

Education and Income levels 

"Wayne county has five of the state's ten best hospitals, but it's absolutely last in Michigan in physical and mental health, low birth weight, and premature death," he said.

Statistics like this are particularly surprising, because both counties have a lot of resources, and world class medical facilities. If you need to see any sort of specialist, they're not very far away. 

French's findings suggest that access to doctors and hospitals don't necessarily guarantee better health. A lot of it, he said, has to do with what happens before you show up in the doctor's office.

Your health is more closely correlated with your level of education and income, rather than how good your doctor is. 

Insurance plays a big role in how people choose to care for themselves. 

In Washtenaw, the uninsured rate is the third best in the state at 11 percent. In Wayne, 18 percent of the population is uninsured. 

If you don't have insurance, you aren't as likely to go to a doctor - or you'll put it off, which often ends up being more expensive.


Though the air and water quality aren't drastically different from one another in Wayne and Washtenaw county, surroundings still have an impact on your health in more than one way.

The percentage of fast food restaurants in an area has a major impact on your health, French said. 

The people you interact with can also impact how much attention you pay to your well being.

"We are so much a product of the people who are around us and what we are accustomed to," French said.

"We spoke to a physician who said that if everyone around you is in poor health, you don't think it's a big deal if you're in poor health too. If all your friends in Ann Arbor are out bicycling and you can't make it up the steps, you go to your doctor. We are so much a product of the people who are around us and what we are accustomed to," French said.

How can these disparities be minimized?

A good place to start might be putting more teachers in the community.

"The answer to this isn't necessarily to throw more doctors at the Detroit Medical Center, it's about education. The higher your education level, the better your health and the higher your income. The higher your income, the better your health."

Income and education, that's the foundation for a healthier life, said French. 

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To hear the full audio, click the link above. 

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