Low Life Expectancy Sparks Call to Action in Fort Worth ZIP Code

The live expectancy in Fort Worth's 76104 ZIP code is the lowest in the state

In Fort Worth, the life expectancy in one of the city's poorest ZIP codes is as low as it is in a third world country. The UT Southwestern researcher behind a new study calls it shocking. She's teamed up with a local pastor to do something about it.

The doors were open, and the conversation just beginning, at New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church on Saturday.

People of all ages and backgrounds were invited to try to fix a problem plaguing the mostly African American community in the inner city.

"Since 1937 when I came, things haven't changed a lot," Fort Worth resident Opal Lee said.

At 92, Lee is defying the odds. While the average life expectancy in Texas is 78, in ZIP code 76104, where she was raised, it's barely 67. That's the lowest in the state.

"As a scientist, to see the numbers on a map, it's pretty shocking," said Dr. Sandi Pruitt, an assistant professor at UT Southwestern.

The why is complicated.

"Our nutrition, it's off the chain," Lee said. "The mamas give them [kids] a bottle of pop, instead of the milk they need. We've got to change those habits."

"Not just food deserts, you have what we call are food swamps where you have food, but it's fried foods," said pastor Kyev Tatum of New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church.

Some neighborhoods are lucky to have convenience stores that sell milk and bread. Forty percent of the ZIP code lives in poverty. Lee said it doesn't just make her sad.

"It makes me want to do something," she said.

She's not alone.

"You can't say you're one of the most compassionate cities in the country, when you have a crisis right in view," Tatum said.

He said he hoped to spark change through public policy and investment into youth who feel hopeless.

"There has been a spirit of a paralyzing pessimism that has perpetuated through our hearts and minds of our children," Tatum said. "Many of them in the third, fourth and fifth grade, feel that they can't get any better, that there's something wrong with them."

Pruitt said the turnaround could take a generation. Lee said she understood it wouldn't be in her lifetime, she just wants to know, it's on the way.

“No day is promised to us and I want people to know that, 'Hey, I can pass this baton to you. Take it and run with it,'" she said.

At least two more community conversations are on the books. The next one is set for May 25, focused on youth.

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