A new study found that life expectancy in the United States varies by over 20 years from county to county. Researchers noted that life expectancy is rising overall in the U.S., but also that in some areas death rates significantly varied.

The greatest life expectancy was reported in central Colorado, but in some counties, life expectancy is more than 20 years lower. The findings were published on May 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Image credit: Clearconnectionschiropractic.com
Image credit: Clearconnectionschiropractic.com

Access to health care and economic status affect life expectancy

The research was conducted by scientists from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who were alarmed by the differences in life expectancy rates.

“Life expectancy in many places in this country is declining. It’s going backward instead of forward,” said Ali Mokdad, co-author of the report and professor at the University of Washington, according to The Washington Post. “These disparities are widening, so this gap is increasing.”

The study points out that people are less likely to live longer if they get little exercise, are poor or do not access to health care. Mokdad noted that the quality and availability of health care has a direct effect on health outcomes. He believes the country needs to rethink how it delivers medical care, and that greater investment is required in prevention, as well as a more holistic approach to encourage communities to change to healthier lifestyles.

The research coincides with other studies in recent years that show that the United States is failing to keep up or encourage improvements in longevity, as opposed to other countries. Mokdad said that countries like Australia are way ahead of the United States in providing preventive care and trying to discourage harmful behaviors such as smoking.

“Smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure – these are preventable risk factors,” noted Mokdad, according to The Washington Post. “We are falling behind our competitors in health.”

He added that the lack of prevention will impact productivity in the country and that it will take away U.S.’s competitive edge in the economy. Mokdad said that what the U.S. is doing now regarding longevity is definitely not working and that they need to regroup to solve the problem.

Kentucky has 8 out of the 10 counties with lowest life expectancy

The researchers looked at death certificates from 1980 through 2014 to assess on Americans’ life expectancy. They found that the District of Columbia and Loudoun County, Va., had increased life expectancy rates, with 12.8 and 12.4 percent, respectively. Fairfax County, in Washington, has the lowest all-cause death rate in the state, which is significantly lower than the nationwide average.

The study warns about Kentucky, as of the 10 counties where life expectancy has dropped the most since 1980, eight are in the state. The other two counties are in Alabama and Oklahoma. The places with the worst mortality metrics include central Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and sites in the Dakotas with large Native American populations.

The counties that most improved in life expectancy since 1980 include some locations in Alaska, such as the North Slope and the Aleutian Islands, Manhattan (New York County), Brooklyn (Kings County), and San Francisco.

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine