Jessica Young, American University – Where You Live Matters for Your Health

Shared economic prosperity has not found its way into certain states and communities.

Jessica Young, assistant professor in the department of health studies at American University, describes the problems that arise when not everyone benefits from a booming economy.

​​Jessica Young is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Studies at American University. Her work broadly focuses on health in economically distressed and under-resourced communities. Dr. Young’s research centers on investments and policies that improve health through community and economic development and the roles race and racism play in shaping these investments and policies. She has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, such as the American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, Journal of Law and Medical Ethics, Epidemiologic Reviews, and Family and Community Health. Dr. Young’s current research projects focus on the intersection of community development and health, including the roles and impacts of philanthropy in designing, scaling, and translating community development and health initiatives into policy. Dr. Young is also examining health in economically distressed communities, especially those communities experiencing economic changes or instability (i.e., evolving from a manufacturing economic base to a knowledge or services economy). Prior to American University, Dr. Young worked as a Program Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Dr. Young completed her PhD in Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, specializing in Health and Public Policy.

Where You Live Matters for Your Health


While the U.S. economy has gained prosperity after the Great Recession, too many communities are still left behind, and it shows in their health.

According to the UnitedHealth Foundation, people living in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia are less healthy than people living in other states.

Diet, lack of exercise, smoking, genetics, and access to health care are partially to blame for poor health. But where a person lives, works, and plays also matter.

Community traits like housing, access to nutritious food and safe water, education, and employment opportunities are essential for good health. These social determinants of health are thought to be among the most powerful influences on a person’s health.

Opportunities for quality education, housing, and work are limited in economically distressed communities. Overall, about 17 percent of the U.S. population lives in economically distressed places.

I research relationships between economic well-being and health. People living in economically distressed places tend to live shorter and sicker lives. This pattern begins at birth.

My preliminary results show that infants are about 20 percent more likely to die before their first birthday in distressed counties. Research shows that deaths from mental and substance abuse are 64 percent higher in distressed places compared to prosperous ones.

Those in distressed places are also more likely to have fewer resources for good health, including access to healthy foods and primary care doctors.

Shared economic prosperity is good for our health and good for the economy. More investments in the social determinants of health will help close the health gaps we see across the U.S.

  1. Rachel Landis

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