Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Life expectancy rates are lower, and are even declining, in some poor, rural counties

Life expectancy varies widely among U.S. counties, and has been decreasing in a few of them, says a study by researchers from the University of Washington and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The study, which used county-level data from 1980 to 2014, found that "life expectancy at birth for both sexes combined was 79.1, but differed by 20.1 years between the counties with the lowest and highest life expectancy." (Study map: Change in life expectancy, by county, from 1980 to 2014; click on image for larger version)
The lowest life expectancy was in counties in South and North Dakota with Native American reservations, the Mississippi Delta and Central Appalachia, researchers said. The highest life expectancies were in counties in central Colorado. Eight of the top 10 counties with the lowest life expectancy are in Kentucky. The other two counties are in Oklahoma and Alabama.

A knot of eight Eastern Kentucky counties had the greatest decline in life expectancy in the United States from 1980 to 2014. In other words, babies born in those counties today are expected, on average, to live shorter lives than their parents, based on recent death certificates. That was true in only five other counties: two in Alabama and one each in Oklahoma, Mississippi and Tennessee.
(Interactive U.S. Health Map by University of Wisconsin Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows that death rates in Breathitt County, Kentucky, are well above the national average. The interactive map can be viewed here.)
Researchers said "people are less likely to live longer if they are poor, get little exercise and lack access to health care," Joel Achenbach reports for The Washington Post. Researchers "said the quality and availability of that health care—for example, access to screening for signs of cancer—has a significant effect on health outcomes."

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