Gap growing between longest and shortest lifespans in the US

Oswego County had the state's second lowest life expectancy, 78.3 years.

According to the study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, "The gap between counties with the highest and lowest life expectancies is larger now than it was back in 1980 - a more than a 20-year difference in 2014 - highlighting massive and growing inequality in the health of Americans". "Socioeconomic factors - a combination of poverty, income, education, unemployment and race - were independently related to 60 percent of the inequality, and access to and quality of health care explained 27 percent". Japan, which spent $3,816 per person, has a life expectancy of 83.1 years.

Access to health care accounted for much of the rest of the difference, the team found. The law hadn't been in effect long enough to be measured under the study.

"New York City initiated lots of public health initiatives that leveled the playing field and made it easier for people who were left behind to improve their health", Mokdad said.

But he said prevention measures, such as checking and controlling blood pressure, or helping people afford fresh fruit and vegetables, could be helpful in reducing health and life span disparities.

"Geographic disparities in life expectancy among USA counties are large and increasing", the authors conclude in the report, titled "Inequalities in life expectancy among United States counties, 1980 to 2014", and published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Life expectancy for the country as a whole grew by more than five years from 1980 to 2014, to an average of 79.1 years. Between 1980 and 2014, men gained 6.7 years, from 70 years on average to 76.7 years, while women gained four years, from 77.5 years to 81.5 years. Counties in central Colorado, Alaska and along both coasts experienced larger increases than most other counties.

A large number of counties, predominantly in the states of Alabama, West Virginia and Kentucky, and some other states along the MS river, had low life expectancies.

Conversely, Summit County, Colorado, ranked as the county with highest life expectancy in 2014 at 86.8 years, is home to several ski resort towns. For example, life expectancy in Owsley County, Kentucky, was 72.4 years in 1980, down from 70.2 in 2014.

Many of those were on Native American reservations.

Counties in South Dakota and North Dakota had the lowest life expectancy, and counties along the lower half of the MS, in eastern Kentucky, and southwestern West Virginia also had very low life expectancy compared with the rest of the country. The county's 2014 calculation was the lowest in Kentucky and sixth-lowest in the nation, the study said.

"We can see that numerous counties with very low life expectancies in the Dakotas, like Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota, overlap with large Native American reservations including the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations", said Murray.

In addition to the eight in Eastern Kentucky, there were two in Alabama and one each in Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma, the study said. "At the same time, 74% of the variation was explained by behavioral and metabolic risk factors alone, while only marginally more variation was explained by socioeconomic and race/ethnicity factors, behavioral and metabolic risk factors, and health care factors combined".

"The inequality in health in the United States - a country that spends more on health care than any other - is unacceptable", said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME. "Every American, regardless of where they live or their background, deserves to live a long and healthy life".

Vanessa Coleman

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