Study: Life expectancy in South Memphis lowest in county

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Could your ZIP code tell you how long you’re going to live? A new study shows some startling trends.

Pamela Dorsey’s lived in South Memphis all her life.

“I just love South Memphis," she said. "I grew up in South Memphis and I live pretty good, so it’s okay.”

However, studies done by the Shelby County Health Department show people there aren’t living as long.

On average, neighbors in the 38106 and 38126 ZIP codes live 13 years less than people who live in Collierville.

“Those are two very different life experiences in the same county," said Chief of Epidemiology David Sweat.

Sweat, with the Shelby County Health Department, said they started building a community health record with the CDC six years ago.

Soon after, they realized Shelby County’s too diverse to be represented by a single number or rating.

“We thought different communities were probably having different experiences, but we didn’t know what those experiences were," he said.

They found factors like poverty, education, income and overcrowded housing are contributing to people not living as long in the South Memphis area.

“That becomes a community-wide conversation," said Sweat. "What else do we need to do? What else can we do?”

Researchers say it’s hard for people to stay healthy when they work multiple jobs, don’t have accessible healthcare, or affordable and healthy food options nearby.

“When you go to the grocery store and buy something, you buy what your money can get," said Dorsey.

South Memphis also has higher rates of crime and cigarette smokers compared to the east and west side of the county.

It shows there’s not one answer to help the life expectancy issue.

Sweat hopes this will cause a community-wide conversation to figure out where people can step in.

“Where are opportunities to intervene and make a difference?”

They hope to keep sharing their research and have more communities across the country do similar studies for comparison.