British Columbia

Life expectancy in Metro Vancouver can vary by almost a decade depending on where you live: UBC study

Though the difference in mortality rates by neighbourhood come as no shock, new research could give policy-makers and planners a better idea of where to focus services and supports to prevent death.

Life expectancy gaps decreased from 1991 to 2001 but then began to increase dramatically, researchers found

Where you live in Metro Vancouver could have a significant impact on your life expectancy, according to a new study from UBC. (David Horemans/CBC News)

Life expectancy can vary by nearly a decade depending on which neighbourhood you live in, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia. 

Using data collected by Statistics Canada and Population Data B.C., over a 27-year period from 1991 to 2016, researchers were able to determine that people in communities such as West Point Grey live up to 9.5 years longer than those living in the Downtown Eastside.

This is likely no surprise to residents of Metro Vancouver, as those mentioned neighbourhoods differ vastly; one is covered in multi-million dollar homes and the other is home to a disproportionate amount of poverty, mental illness and addiction. But researchers say this study highlights the gaps in services and supports in each community with quantifiable evidence.

"The features of our environment, basically where we live and the types of services that are around it, play a huge part in this," lead author Jessica Yu told On the Coast guest host Bal Brach. 

"Having parks and recreation facilities nearby will increase your likelihood to, for example, do physical activity [which can] decrease stress levels. Communities that have that nearby will likely have better health outcomes."

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside has a much lower life expectancy rate than other neighbourhoods in the region. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Other factors include having health services nearby and access to multiple forms of transportation to be able to get to school or work, Yu said. 

The study found life expectancy gaps actually decreased from 1991 to 2001, but after that they began to increase dramatically.

"One thing that really surprised me, we don't know for sure if this is causing some of these inequality gaps [but] housing unaffordability had increased in the early 2000s," Yu said.

"We haven't actually studied if this is why. But these are the kinds of questions I hope we'll be able to explore again in the future."

Yu said more research must be done around how to address the wildly different health outcomes in each neighbourhood, but her research is a start. 

The research team created an interactive map to sort through mortality rates and the cause of death in each neighbourhood for males and females every five years from 1991 to 2016.

The benefit, Yu said, is policy-makers can look at that data and ensure services are available in specific neighbourhoods to prevent those types of deaths.

"For example, if there are areas that have higher types of mortality from cancers, you may consider increasing cancer screening for these areas or at least increase knowledge of how often we should be screening," Yu said.

LISTEN | Jessica Yu explains her life expectancy research on CBC's On the Coast

With files from On the Coast

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