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U.S. Lags Behind Top Nations On Lifespans

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
June 15, 2011

Like politics, all health is local.

The expected lifespans for Americans born recently are impressive: 75.6 years for males and 80.8 years for females who entered the world in 2007.

We’re living longer than ever. Well, some of us are. But many Americans aren’t faring so well.

A fresh analysis of recent changes in longevity finds there are wide variations in how long people in the U.S. can expect to live, depending on their county of residence. So for American men, the life expectancy ranged from 65.9 to 81.1 years. For women, the outlook ranged from 73.5 to 86.0.

And when the outlook for Americans’ lifespans is compared to those for people in other countries with the best life expectancies, we’re falling behind.

As Dr. Christopher Murphy, senior author of the study, said in a statement, “Eight of 10 counties are not keeping pace,” despite the U.S. spending more on health care per person than any other country on the planet.

Five counties in Mississippi, the researchers say, have the worst life expectancies for women — all less than 74.5 years, which is lower than places including El Salvador and Peru. Four of the same counties have the lowest life expectancies for men — all less than 67 years.

What are we doing wrong? High rates of obesity and smoking are two of the biggest factors in the poor relative performance for Americans, the researchers say.

Where are the Americans who’ve got it right? Women live an average of 86 years in Collier County, Florida. Men in Fairfax County, Virginia, live 81.1 years.

The analysis was performed by researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, with help from colleagues at Imperial College London.

The results were published online by the journal Population Health Metrics.

The researchers put together some interactive maps, so you can get county-by-county information on longevity. The map below is for American women. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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