The calculator has spoken, and it’s suggesting that my wife and all the rest of you are gonna have to put up with me for a long, long time.
I recently punched my numbers into this fascinating new calculator developed by a University of Nebraska Medical Center professor. My age, height and weight. Then I typed in the facts of me: white, male nonsmoker who doesn’t eat many fruits and vegetables. Then, finally, I punched in my ZIP code.
I am 38. The new life expectancy calculator told me that, by the numbers, I can expect to live 54.9 years, to the year 2074 … before I slowly shuffle off this mortal coil right around my 93rd birthday.
I seriously cannot wait to fly to the cemetery in my self-driving hover hearse. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Committee to Overthrow Our Robot Overlords.
But let’s hold off on the lame Jetsons jokes for a moment, because to me the most fascinating and most troubling part of this calculator isn’t how long it says people like me live.
What’s fascinating, and deeply concerning, is how long it says I live if I change just one number … my ZIP code.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Let me illustrate. Let’s keep every other number of mine the same, but instead of living in ZIP code 68102, let’s say I was born and raised in 68131 or 68110 or 68111.
Change my ZIP code and the calculator predicts that I will never see my 90th birthday, nor my 85th.
By the numbers, if I were a longtime resident of north or northeast Omaha, I could expect to die nearly a decade sooner than I’m predicted to now.
In fact, this difference is so great that the calculator actually predicts that you are better off being a cigarette-smoking resident of downtown Omaha than a nonsmoking resident of north Omaha.
“People might know the importance of living in healthy, well-developed neighborhoods,” says Dejun Su, the associate professor who led the life expectancy calculator project. “They may have some rough sense of the disparities.
“But they probably do not understand the magnitude of this. They do not understand the size of these gaps.”
Su is the director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the med center. He led a team that fed a decade of statewide census and mortality data — including life expectancy by ZIP code — into computers to develop the calculator tool. It’s the most ambitious project of its kind undertaken in Omaha, med center officials believe.
You can try it out for yourself here: publichealth.unmc.edu/lec/index.html. You can watch how your life expectancy changes if you lose 10 pounds, or bump your daily fruit-and-vegetable intake, or go from being a smoker to a nonsmoker. It’s a great way to bring the benefits of healthy living into focus, to show us that, generally speaking, Nebraskans can give themselves a little more time on this Earth if they exercise and eat more carrots.
Obviously, these are data-backed generalities — we all know the person who ate all the veggies, jogged 5 miles a day and dropped dead way too soon.
But, to me, the longevity calculator’s most striking feature is highlighting the huge role that geography, and the underlying socioeconomic factors tied to geography, plays in helping to determine how long we live.
This ZIP code level data shouldn’t necessarily be taken as gospel. The life expectancy numbers of individual neighborhoods will pingpong around from year to year because we’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.
But, overall: Those of us who are born, raised and live in the western suburbs of Omaha, or in specific neighborhoods in central Omaha, are expected to live well past 80.
Those born, raised and living in north Omaha, parts of South Omaha and Bellevue are expected to die much sooner.
In fact, there’s roughly a 12-year gap in average lifespan between those living in suburban Omaha and those living in north Omaha.
“It tells us that, in this city and in this state, we have a long journey to go to address this gap,” Su says.
I asked the health disparity researcher about the reasons behind that yawning gap, and he asked me to imagine a pyramid.
Research shows that basic socioeconomic factors make up the bottom layer of this pyramid — the foundation upon which the disparity is built, he says.
“Decent education. Good access to jobs. Income that allows people to make a life of dignity. Those are the foundational factors,” he says.
And then you build upon that. People living in socioeconomically distressed areas of the city probably have less access to healthy food. They probably have less access to good medical care. They probably have less access to good prenatal care and parenting classes that might help boost the next generation. They probably live in areas with higher crime rates. They suffer from higher levels of preventable disease. They have higher levels of tobacco use, alcohol abuse, drug abuse.
And on and on it goes, until death do us part — a death expected to come years sooner if you grow up a poor black kid in north Omaha rather than a well-off white kid in Papillion.
Another important thing to note about the life expectancy calculator: It also shows that pockets of rural Nebraska, particularly southeast Nebraska, are lagging behind the state average in life expectancy. That might be more surprising than the low life expectancy in parts of northeast Nebraska, where Nebraska’s Native American tribes are clustered.
And it also might push back against the idea that this only happens in the inner city or on a reservation … if you assemble enough of that pyramid’s building blocks, this can happen in a small town, too.
Su doesn’t think the calculator will solve any of these gargantuan problems, not by itself. But he’s hopeful that the life expectancy calculator will open some eyes about the reality of Omaha. About how our ZIP code might matter far more than we ever realized or acknowledged.
“We all live in this city,” he says. “If we don’t talk about equity, we’re failing the mission of public health.”
1 of 107
The moon rose over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in the early morning hours.
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Ed Morrissette a 95-year-old WWII veteran of Papillion, reminisced while toasting to his fallen comrades with a drink accompanied by John Adams, Tom Demro, Antonio Chickinelli and Jeff Hadden at Patriarch Distillers Inc. in La Vista, Nebraska, Thursday, June 6, 2019. Morrissette who was part of the second wave on D-Day at Omaha Beach drank a Canada Dry while the others had Soldier Valley Omaha Beach D-Day 75th anniversary bourbon whiskey.
Major League Baseball debuted in Omaha on Thursday June 13th as the Royals faced the Tigers at TD Ameritrade Park.
Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera signed autographs for fans prior to a Major League Baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
Omaha Burke's Jaylon Roussell jogged the field people to participating in the Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday Night Lights event at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Louisville's Adam Elliott warmed up before the start of game 7 of the College World Series.
Louisville's Drew Campbell celebrated a walk-off win on his hit in the bottom of the 9th against Mississippi State during game ten of the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park.
Te'Andi Titus, left, and Kevin Kalaw, both of Omaha, read on the dock at Standing Bear Lake as a cool breeze swept over the lake, keeping the mosquitoes at bay.
Vanderbilt and Michigan faced off in the College World Series finals at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska in 2019.
Michigan's Jordan Brewer and Jack Blomgren celebrated after defeating Vanderbilt in their College World Series game.
A B-2 stealth bomber flew over as Michigan stands during the National Anthem before their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt faces Michigan during their College World Series game.
Vanderbilt's Harrison Ray signed autographs before the start of game 3 of the CWS championship.
Vanderbilt fans celebrate at the Commodores capture a national title with a win over Michigan.
Michigan players mingled prior to their College World Series game against Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt celebrated their win over Michigan during the third game of the champion series of the College World Series.
Chris Isaak performed at the free Memorial Park Concert at Memorial Park.
Omaha firefighter David Kirchofer provided water to Louie the dog, after Kirchofer helped battle a a fire at 5427 86th Court. Louie, who does not live in the unit that caught fire, was interested in all the action.
Ray Renk of San Francisco, California, holds his daughter Kennedy, 8, alongside his son Benjamin, 10, while sporting personalized suits and watching Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, walk the convention floor during the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting at the CHI Health Center Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Phoebe the giraffe eats lettuce fed by visitors as the Lincoln Children's Zoo provides a sneak peek at their new exhibits and expansion in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thursday, May 9, 2019.
Lincoln Southeast’s Katie Whitehead, center, and Caroline Miller, right, celebrate with teammates including Ally Keitges, left, after winning the No. 1 doubles against Millard North during the NSAA Class A girls state tennis championship match at Koch Family Tennis Center in Omaha, Nebraska, Friday, May 17, 2019.
Omaha Bryanâ€™s Darwin Loftin lands a long jump during the Metro Conference track meet at Omaha Burke.
Millard West's Corbin Hawkins waits out the rain delay in the dugout. The baseball game between Millard West and Creighton Prep was postponed because of the weather.
Archbishop Bergan's Luke Jessen hits the center field wall trying to catch a hit from Millard West's Max Anderson resulting in an in-field home run during their state tournament game.
Crawford's Jillian Brennan (13) points up to the sky before the Class D 3,200-meter final at Omaha Burke High School during day one of the state track meet.
Gretna's Ashley Marsh connects with the ball alongside Marian's Maureen Tolley during the semifinal round of the Class A girls state soccer tournament at Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Saturday, May 11, 2019.
Elkhorn South players celebrate their championship while reading the name plate on the trophy after defeating Skutt during the NSAA Class B girls state soccer championship game Morrison Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, May 14, 2019.
Jacob Himelick, left, a Millard north senior, chats with fellow senior Jace January as he signs January's year book. January likes to spend the time between classes greeting fellow students in the hallway.
Hannah Gruhlkey hugs her goat Griffin as he nibbles on her hair during a Country Bumpkin 4-H Club meeting at the Living Legend Farm.
Chipper Fyfe stands on a dike to see how far floodwaters have risen just west of Hamburg, Iowa.
Nebraska pitchers stay loose before their NCAA Regional game in Oklahoma City.
Tad Badje, 49, right, and wife Shelly Badje, 48, pepper Title Boxing Club's general manager, Chris Gerhardt's mid-section during a two-on-one body shot race as part of their work out at Title Boxing Club in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two-year-old Hannah Bonnot of Denver, Colorado, stands in awe before "Mountain Outlaw" taken at Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, on display at Tom Mangelsen's "Life in the Wild" exhibition at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer walks through the tall grass at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska.
Canada geese fly over Flanagan Lake at sunset in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sunset is reflected in some open water at Flanagan Lake in Omaha, Nebraska.
Ian Murphy, canvases the nearly 90 snow people which are on display at the Leavenworth Park in Omaha, Nebraska. Neighbors such as Murphy say the snow people didn't exist yesterday and claim it happened over night or possibly early this morning.
Husker fans rock The Rock and corn hats in the first half as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln men's basketball team hosts Michigan State at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
An allosaurus appears to be eyeing a tasty, 19-month-old morsel named Austin Haseltine as he is lifted from the shoulders of his grandpa, Greg Fasano, by his mother, Amy Haseltine, with his father, Jim Haseltine looking on. The Dinosaur UpROAR exhibit at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft Street in Omaha, Nebraska, features 20 life-sized installations as well as discovery stations and educational activities set throughout the gardens.
The setting moon is framed by some dried flowers at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
A person goes for a run along the snow covered trails at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
The sun rises on a snow covered Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Pink and blue balloons float past the Sower statue on the Nebraska State Capitol after balloons were released for the 45th annual Nebraska Walk for Life in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Steam rises over north downtown Omaha, Nebraska, as morning lows were below -10 degrees.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska, on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Treyton Gubser, left, and his uncle Daniel Gubser paddle using shovels through the floodwaters after they rescued Daniel's kid's cat, Bob, in Hamburg, Iowa.
Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over a flooded Waterloo, Nebraska, in March.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River in April.
Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Amelia Fritz, right, holds on to her daughter-in-law Tesha Fritz in Glenwood, Iowa. They were evacuated from Pacific Junction, Iowa, after floodwaters hit the town last night. They were part of 15-relatives all staying in the same house or in a camper in the front driveway.
Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.