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U.S. Life Expectancy Falls Behind Healthiest Nations

Published: 2011-06-15 - Updated: 2022-09-03
Author: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation | Contact: healthdata.org
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: Disability News in the Americas Publications

Synopsis: More than 80% of American counties fell in standing against the average of the ten nations with the best life expectancies in the world. Nationwide, women fare more poorly than men. The researchers found that women in 1,373 counties - about 40% of US counties - fell more than five years behind the nations with the best life expectancies. Men in almost half as many counties - 661 total - fell that far. Change in life expectancy is so uneven that within some states, there is now a decade difference between the counties with the most extended lives and those with the shortest. States such as Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia have seen counties leap forward more than five years from 1987 to 2007 while nearby counties stagnate or even lose years of life expectancy.

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Definition

Life Expectancy and Longevity

Life Expectancy, or longevity, is defined as the expected number of years remaining at a given age denoted by ex, which means the average number of subsequent years of life for someone now aged x, according to a particular mortality experience. Modern life expectancy has substantially changed yearly and cannot be used accurately for long-term predictions. The word "longevity" is sometimes used as a synonym for "life expectancy" in demography. However, the term "longevity" is sometimes meant to refer only to long-lived members of a population, whereas "life expectancy" is always defined statistically as the average number of years remaining at a given age.

Main Digest

While people in Japan, Canada, and other nations are enjoying significant gains in life expectancy every year, most counties within the United States are falling behind, according to a new study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The most current county-level longevity analysis finds large disparities nationwide; women fare worse than men, and people in Appalachia, the Deep South, and Northern Texas live the shortest lives.

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IHME researchers, in collaboration with researchers at Imperial College London, found that between 2000 and 2007, more than 80% of counties fell in standing against the average of the ten nations with the best life expectancies in the world, known as the international frontier.

"We are finally able to answer the question of how the US fares in comparison to its peers globally," said Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME Director and one of the paper's co-authors. "Even though the US spends more per capita than any other nation on health, eight out of every ten counties are not keeping pace regarding health outcomes. That's a staggering statistic."

The new study, Falling behind: life expectancy in US counties from 2000 to 2007 in an international context, is published June 15 in Biomed Central's open-access journal Population Health Metrics. In conjunction with the study, IHME is releasing a complete time series for life expectancy from 1987 to 2007 for 3,138 counties and ten cities, the most up-to-date analysis available.

"When compared to the international frontier for life expectancy, US counties range from being 16 calendar years ahead to more than 50 behind for women. For men, the range is from 15 calendar years ahead to more than 50 calendar years behind. This means that some counties have a life expectancy today that nations with the best health outcomes had in 1957."

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The researchers suggest that the relatively low life expectancies in the US cannot be explained by the size of the nation, racial diversity, or economics. Instead, the authors point to high rates of obesity, tobacco use, and other preventable risk factors for early death as the leading drivers of the gap between the US and other nations.

Five counties in Mississippi have the lowest life expectancies for women, all below 74.5 years, putting them behind nations such as Honduras, El Salvador, and Peru. Four of those counties, along with Humphreys County, MS, have the lowest life expectancies for men, all below 67 years, meaning they are behind Brazil, Latvia, and the Philippines.

Women live the longest in Collier, FL, at 86 years on average, better than France, Switzerland, and Spain. Men live the longest in Fairfax County, VA, at 81.1 years, which is higher than life expectancies in Japan and Australia. Women also live long lives in Teton, Wyoming; San Mateo and Marin, California; and Montgomery, Maryland. For men, long life spans also can be found in Marin, California; Montgomery, Maryland; Santa Clara, California; and Douglas, Colorado.

Nationwide, women fare more poorly than men. The researchers found that women in 1,373 counties - about 40% of US counties - fell more than five years behind the nations with the best life expectancies. Men in about half as many counties - 661 total - fell that far.

Black men and women have lower life expectancies than white men and women in all counties. Life expectancy for black women ranges from 69.6 to 82.6 years, and for black men, from 59.4 to 77.2 years. No counties are ahead of the international frontier in both cases; some are more than 50 years behind. The researchers could not analyze other race categories because of low population levels in many counties.

Change in life expectancy is so uneven that within some states, there is now a decade difference between the counties with the longest lives and those with the shortest. States such as Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia have seen counties leap forward more than five years from 1987 to 2007 while nearby counties stagnate or even lose years of life expectancy. In Arizona, Yuma County's average life expectancy for men increased by 8.5 years, nearly twice the national average, while neighboring La Paz County lost a full year of life expectancy, the steepest drop nationwide. Nationally, life expectancy increased by 4.3 years for men and 2.4 years for women between 1987 and 2007.

"By creating this time series, which has never been available at the county level, we hope states and counties will be able to take targeted action," Dr. Sandeep Kulkarni, an IHME research fellow and the paper's lead author, said. "Counties in one part of the state should not be benefiting from big increases in life expectancy while other counties are seeing life spans shrink."

The authors propose that state and local policymakers use the life expectancy data and the county comparisons to tailor strategies that will fit the dynamics of their communities. This resonates with local policymakers, such as Dr. David Fleming, Director of Public Health - Seattle & King County.

"It's not the health care system that's having the biggest impact on health; it's the community," Dr. Fleming said. "The average person in the US spends one hour annually in a physician's office unless they are sick. So we will not get ahead of these problems until we move our interventions into the communities where people live."

The Seattle & King County health department is collaborating with IHME on an ambitious analysis of health in King County, one of the largest studies of its kind. Called the Monitoring Disparities in Chronic Conditions (MDCC) Study, researchers are integrating data from emergency medical services, hospital discharge databases, pharmacy records, and other sources to identify the biggest health challenges in King County. They are surveying 9,000 people and taking blood samples to analyze for a range of risk factors and diseases.

"We are building the evidence for focused interventions that will make an impact locally," said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Global Health at IHME, who is leading the MDCC Study. "If we as a society are going to fund programs to improve health, we must ensure that we are measuring the impact because these life expectancy numbers show that what we have been doing up until now clearly is not working."

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global research center at the University of Washington providing a sound measurement of population health and the factors that determine health and a rigorous evaluation of health system and health program performance.

The Institute's goal is to improve population health by providing the best evidence possible to guide health policy - and by making that evidence easily accessible to decision-makers as they strategically fund, design, and implement programs to improve health outcomes worldwide. IHME was created in 2007 through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the state of Washington.

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Reference Source(s):

U.S. Life Expectancy Falls Behind Healthiest Nations | Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (healthdata.org). Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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Cite This Page (APA): Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. (2011, June 15). U.S. Life Expectancy Falls Behind Healthiest Nations. Disabled World. Retrieved January 31, 2023 from www.disabled-world.com/news/america/life-expectancy-falls.php

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