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 123
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.
Creighton's Jordan Hovey (5), right, celebrates hitting a home run with his teammates in the 2nd inning.
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.
Elkhorn South's Ryee Gray (40) fights for a rebound with Sidney's Meaghan Ross (0).Sidney played Elkhorn South in a Class B first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Elkhorn South defeated Sidney 51-37.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.
Dymond Meeks leaps across the snow pile in the center of Farnam Street near its intersection with 14th Street in Omaha, Nebraska, as she makes her way to work. Meeks said the snow was terrible. She said it took her 15 minutes to get down the hill her home is located on.
Hazley Eulberg, 10, of Kennard, Nebraska, takes in the trophy display in the Whitetail Kings Collection booth at the Omaha International Boat Sports and Travel Show at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The house-made carrot cake is one of the many desserts on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44), right, grabs a rebound over the top of teammate JT Gibson (0). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Norfolk's Annika Harthoorn dives backwards at the start of heat 4 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44) hugs his mom Kim Hahn following UNO's 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Lincoln Pius X's Katie Stonehocker competes in the girls 200 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Jen Freeman, who is training for a 100 mile race, jogs through the snow in Millard, Nebraska. Freeman said that she has to train no matter what the weather.
Mesquite grilled eight-ounce filet with heirloom carrots and burnt end mac and cheese. J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood serves dinner seven nights a week in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Matt Pile (40) gets tangled with Western Illinois' Zion Young (1), left and Brandon Gilbeck (52) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Burke assistant wrestling coach Jesse Peters takes a rest before the start of the semifinals at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament. Peters said the nap helps him get through the long tournament days.
South Dakota State's Mike Daum (24) scores a basket against UNO. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10) drives past Western Illinois' Keshon Montague (22) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Creamed corn with bacon is among many side items on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
The UNO basketball team celebrates their 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's KJ Robinson (5) reacts after missing a shot. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Bryan's Ladamien Sturdivant, left, tries to keep a hold on Fremont's Cody Carlson during their Class A 126 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Lincoln Pius X's Kara Owens rises from the water as she competes in heat 2 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Hilary Sehring punches the speed bag during an exercise round at 9Round Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gothenburg's wrestling coach Tom Scott cheers on Gothenburg's Wyatt Hotz as he takes on Lexington's Brady Fago during their 132 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Seventh-grade students from Nathan Hale Middle School are reflected in a â€œThe New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club,â€ a portrait by Rashid Johnson while touring 30 Americans, an exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The traveling exhibit of 30 African American artists includes art with themes of slavery, the KKK and an emphasis on the beauty of black lives.
A man clears the snow from the top of a parking garage located near 10th and Jackson Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, after heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jackson (21) delivers a slam dunk as teammate Ayo Akinwole (10) expresses his approval in the second half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha beats Western Illinois 77-63 at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fremont assistant coach Cydney Granger cheers on Fremont swimmer Lauren Gifford in the girls 500 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
A pedestrian cruises past a sign of seasons to come in the window of Palm Beach Tan, 5417 S. 96th Street in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10), left, drives around South Dakota State's David Jenkins (5). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jim Stotts, of Glenwood, Iowa, walks a few laps around Stinson Park while passing time before going to see a movie at Aksarben Cinema, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Kotulak, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Fonner Park, demonstrates how to play a PariMAX's historical horse racing game at the Fonner Park executive offices in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Western Michigan's Ethen Frank (26), Lawton Courtnall (10), and Hugh McGing (16) celebrate a goal during the second period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
People jog through the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gage Beins, right, dumps snow on his friend Jeremy Boyd as they goof around in the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jamie Kotera, 59, of Springfield, Nebraska, who works out five times a week is seen during her strength training workout with personal trainer Tyler Kottas at Better Bodies Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer forages for food at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska, as snow falls.
A red-tailed hawk stands in the grass near 144th Steet and Giles Road in Omaha, Nebraska. He soon took off again as the light changed and traffic began to move.
Intern Daniel Holm, left, works with stage manager Amy Thomas backstage. The two were keeping track of the play as it progressed to know when they needed to make scene changes. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
The kimchi ramen at Ika San, new in the Old Market, includes the restaurant's signature crispy pork belly and rich pork broth, plus house-made kimchi, which is fermented cabbage.
Tom Dahir clears the snow from his driveway in Omaha, Nebraska, near the intersection of 97th Street and W. Center Road after a heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jordan (27) and Western Michigan's Cam Lee (28) battle for the puck during the first period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Actor Patrick Brusnahan does his makeup before the start of rehearsal. Brusnahan played the dwarf Bombur. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
Diederick Dillon, an Omaha Burke junior, clears snow from his car in the school's parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha Public Schools were let out early because of the weather. Dillion said he was headed straight to work, despite being let out of school early.
A woman makes her way to a store as snow falls at Village Pointe in Omaha, Nebraska.
Milliner Margie Trembley designs, constructs and sells hats from her shop called Margie Trembley Chapeaux in Springfield, Nebraska.