By Claudia Rowe, special correspondent
Despite living in a country with one of the best health-care systems in the world, thousands of American girls will have shorter lives than their mothers, according to new research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
In 661 areas of the country life expectancy for women has stagnated or decreased since 1999.
“It’s tragic,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, who lead the team of researchers evaluating American health and mortality trends across the country.
Nationwide, they found a range of life-spans is so broad that in some areas, such as Stearns, Minn., life expectancies rivaled those in Japan, Hong Kong, and France – which are among the longest on earth.
But elsewhere, particularly in the rural south, average life-spans were lower than in Egypt, Indonesia, and Colombia, countries that spend far less on health care than the U.S.
“With the amount of money we spend on health care in this country, it really should not be this way,” said William Heisel, a spokesman for the institute.
Men in Tunica, Miss., for example, have the lowest life expectancies in the United States, at 66 years. This compares to women in Collier, Fla., who can expect to live nearly two more decades, well past their 85th birthdays.
Men vs. Women
In Washington, however, news is improving. Women in King County women’s increased their average life span more than three years between 1989 and 2009, to 83.2 years. For men the gains were even greater – with an increase of more than five years – for an average life expectancy of 79.2. That rate is comparable to men in living Australia and slightly better than those in Sweden and Norway.
“King County has really moved up to be among the best life-expectancies in the country,” Heisel said. “But why do some counties improve life-spans by more than a decade while others go backward? This is not where we should be.”
Nationally, life-expectancies for men are on the upswing overall, gaining an average of 4.6 years. Women’s life expectancies also improved, but less dramatically, by only 2.7 years, and Heisel found those numbers discouraging.
“Over a period of two decades, to see less than a three-year improvement,” he said.
Worse, in Carter County, Ok., women’s life expectancies were down more than a year; and in Nye, Nev., eight months. Similar patterns of decrease of stagnation showed up in West Virginia, Florida, Alabama and Oklahoma.
The mortality rates were driven primarily by preventable causes of death, according to IHME’s research: tobacco and alcohol use, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. For example, the lives of an estimated 54,000 women could be saved annually by simply reducing salt consumption, the IHME found.
Only 19 counties in the nation showed significant improvement in women’s life-spans.
“Women seem to be impacted more by these preventable risk-factors,” Heisel said. “Men are more likely to have their conditions – like diabetes – adequately treated and controlled.”