Life Expectancy Can Vary By 20 Years Depending On Where You Live

While there will always be disparities in any country, the disparities in the USA that Mokdad and his team found are unexpected "in a country with our wealth and might", he said.

The Morning Call looked at Pennsylvania's counties to see how they compare to state and national averages.

The team led by Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, who is the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, found that life expectancy in the United States is on the rise.

Ladies live the longest, the study says, with an increase in average life expectancy among women rising from 77.5 to 81.5 years of age over the 34 year span. Men still fall below women, increasing their average life expectancy from 70 to 76.7 in the same period.

A cluster of counties in Colorado showed the highest life expectancy in 2014, with Summit County topping the list (86.8 years).

The counties with the lowest life expectancy were clustered in the Dakotas (particularly in areas that were home to Native American reservations); along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi; and in the region connecting Kentucky to West Virginia. The bad news for Americans: your actual life expectancy could vary by more than 20 years depending on where in the United States you happened to be born. This new study adds to a growing body of research showing that race, education, wealth and where you live can help determine how long you will live.

Of the 10 counties where life expectancy has dropped the most since 1980, eight are in Kentucky.

By comparison, the nation with the highest life expectancy in the world that same year, tiny Andorra in Europe's Pyrenees Mountains, came in at only 84.8 years, followed by Iceland at 83.3. The report includes an interactive map of death rates county by county (and sometimes by city, when a city is not part of a county).

Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, lead author and researcher at the university, said: 'Risk factors like obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and smoking explain a large portion of the variation in lifespans, but so do socioeconomic factors like race, education, and income'.

Some of the outcomes reflect longstanding issues: There has been a slight improvement in health along the Mississippi Delta, for example, but life expectancy there was so much lower than average three decades ago that children in the region have not caught up - they are still expected to live shorter lives than those born almost anywhere else in the country. Counties in central Colorado, Alaska and along both coasts experienced larger increases than most other counties.

Counties across the nation can differ as much as two decades in lifespan due to massive inequality in socioeconomic factors. Thirteen US counties have shorter life expectancies than their parents did.

"Risk factors - obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, hypertension, and diabetes - explained 74% of the variation in longevity", said Murray in an interview with CNN.

"Tracking inequality at the county level over time is an important means of assessing progress toward the goal of more equitable health outcomes", the study authors wrote. For example, life expectancy at birth in Owsley County, Kentucky, was 72.4 in 1980, dropping to 70.2 in 2014.

If you live in central Colorado, chances are you'll live longer than any other American.

Still, understanding differences across geographic areas can provide clues, said Meara, about what might contribute to improvements over time.

The U.S. invests more per person on health than many developed countries, spending $9,237 per person in 2014.

  • Larry Hoffman