Saturday, April 26, 2008

In county where women's life expectancy declined most, lifestyle choices are the presumed causes

A few days ago, we noted a study which found that women's life expectancy declined significantly from 1983 to 1999 in 180 U.S. counties. The county where it declined the most was Pulaski County, Va., and the adjoining, independent city of Radford (near center of Encarta map below). "In 1983, life expectancy for women in the two jurisdictions was about 84 years. By 1999, it had dropped 5.8 years, to 78. No other jurisdiction in the nation had a decrease of more than 3.3 years," reports Theresa Vargas of The Washington Post. The study found life expectancy for women stagnant or falling in other parts of Appalachia.

Experts were at a loss to explain the decline in and around Radford. "For many who grew up and work here, the study validated what they already knew -- that women's health is faltering in part because of poor diets and smoking," Vargas writes. "Jody Hershey, director of the New River Health District, said several factors that the study suggests for the drop in longevity come down to lifestyle choices," abetted by economic pressures that make preventive medicine difficult and health insurance an option, not a necessity.

Funeral home owner John Stevens told Vargas times in Radford are getting harder: "We even lost a Wal-Mart here. Who loses a Wal-Mart?" And he's getting more requests for cremations, which don't require an expensive casket. (Read more)

UPDATE, May 7: "Female death rates for Radford and Pulaski County are consistent with the state as a whole and not significantly higher, according to research conducted by the New River Health District," reports Donna Alvis-Banks of The Roanoke Times. "It is important to note that life expectancy and death rates are different statistics," Dr. Jody Hershey, director of the health district, said in a letter to city and county officials. "They are linked, but not necessarily directly."

UPDATE, April 29: The Daily Yonder posts lists of the counties with significantly lower life expectancy and reports that the rural county with the greatest decline in life expectancy, for both men and women, was McNairy County, Tenn. To read the details, click here.


Tipper said...

Interesting article. In my opinion health insurance plays a larger role than the article suggests. Most published information focused on the health of Appalachian women point to bad diets and other bad habits as the primary cause of declining health. As an Appalachian woman I have trouble believing our diets or habits are any worse than women across the US. However I know many women, including myself, who have no access to health care. I would describe the problem as "being hung in the middle" not poor enough to qualify for medicaid but not well off enough to purchase health insurance. This leads to simply ignoring what may be warning signs of an illness or disease instead of paying the outrageous costs of seeking medical care.

I have been enjoying your blog since recently finding it.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that lack of medical insurance could be a factor in this problem. Women often lack health insurance and are also paid far less than men in this area or have jobs which offer no health insurance. However, I would just like to point out that I do classify as being extremely poor, but still do not qualify for medicaid. You must be pregnant or disabled in addition to being very poor in order to qualify. I also wonder about the quality of healthcare women receive. I have been to doctors in this area many times for various problems and have been blown off and told that my problems were all in my head. Another thing to think about is what role the factories have on health in this area. Maybe something is making people sick...