Sunday, June 19, 2011

Life expectancy declining in some counties; trend seems common in Appalachia and the Black Belt

Life expectancy is declining in an increasing number of U.S. counties, and some rural areas stand out, according to a study covering the two decades from 1987 to 2007. In the first decade, life expectancy declined in 314 counties; in the most recent decade, it dropped in 860. Most of those counties, 561, are rural, the Daily Yonder reports: "Nearly one out of four rural Americans live in counties where women in the last decade can expect to live shorter lives."

"The region where life expectancy is lowest, and in some places declining, begins in West Virginia, runs through the southern Appalachian Mountains and west through the Deep South into North Texas," writes David Brown of The Washington Post, who apparently doesn't recognize the Black Belt when he sees it (see maps at bottom). "Places of high life expectancy are more scattered." (Click on map for interactive versions with county data)
Declines in life expectancy were more common among women. Counties that also had declining life expectancy for men included Pike in Kentucky, Grundy in Tennessee, Walker in Alabama, Baker in Florida and La Paz in Arizona. "There are several possible reasons for the slowing of longevity in parts of in the United States," Brown writes. "The rising rate of obesity and plateauing of the smoking cessation rate among women are two. Poorly controlled blood pressure and a shortage of primary-care physicians are two others." Here's another version of the interactive map, showing in yellow the counties where women's life expectancy declined from 1987 to 2007:
Brown explains, "Life expectancy is an abstract concept that summarizes the health and threats to longevity that exist at a particular moment in history. It is not an actual measure of how long people are living." For a further explanation of that, and the rest of the story, click here. For the press release about the study, go here; for the full study, which includes larger versions of the maps below, from Population Health Metricshere. The Yonder story by Bill Bishop, with lists of the rural counties where life expectancy is shortest and longest for men and women, is here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This report seems to ignore the trends toward urbanization of the U.S. plus the continuing decline of people born in rural counties who live the majority of their lives in their birth counties or other rural locations. Moreover, the people with the ability to leave rural birth counties are different as a group - and more likely to have different lifestyles ANYWHERE, especially occupations, than those who remain.

Due to overlooked factors like these, the observations reported and suggested implications grossly overstate any real cause-effect relationship that may exist.