A new study shows public health is headed in the wrong direction. Among the findings, New Orleans' men have among the shortest life expectancies in the nation.
When we meet Lionel Ferbos, he's looking dapper in his pressed suit and Meyer hat. It's tough to believe the old chap is about to turn a hundred. It's even tougher to believe he still plays a paid gig every weekend. The 99 year old jazz musician says, "I’m healthy enough to do it and my brain's still working right, so I might as well use it while it’s there."
And don't be fooled by his age. Lionel can bring the house down! The ragtime trumpeter has played around the world. He's been featured on albums and even performed a show with Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson. He looks back on the show, "It started to rain and there must have been a thousand people there and not one got up out of the rain. They sat in that rain and listened to the performance."
As Lionel prepares to celebrate his 100th birthday at the Palm Court Jazz Café next month, experts say the community has played an important role in his health.
Maureen Lichtveld chairs the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Tulane. She says, "We’re tremendously rich culturally. We're tremendously rich with assets in our communities and many of those assets are frankly under our nose. If we just open our eyes and discover together and use them together."
Lichtveld says unfortunately, Ferbos' long life is the exception, not the norm. While New Orleans women have an average life span of 79.5, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation says our men only live to 68.4 years old. It's a serious problem in the South. "Along the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana and other states such as Mississippi and Alabama we have an historic burden of health disparities."
Studying health disparities in New Orleans poses a unique challenge. While we face common problems like obesity, we also deal with many stressors such as hurricanes, poverty and the BP oil spill. Lichtveld says our psycho-social health is just as important as physical health. "Stress can induce physical adverse health effects so when you look at the relationship of stress or physical health effects, you should not and cannot look at those in isolation. Rather, you have to look at how the one affects the other."
And that may be the key for our 99 year old trumpet player. As Ferbos practices every day and performs every weekend, he's keeping up an important routine that ensures his body is active and his mind is sharp. "Physical health and mental health go together and when he plays music and he’s happy, he will deal with the daily stressors of life."
…hopefully, for many years to come!