Your Zip Code May Shave 20 Years Off Your Life
New study finds a growing gap in life expectancy in the US
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 9, 2017 11:53 AM CDT
Oglala Lakota County in South Dakoa has the lowest average lifespan in the US at 66.8 years.   (AP Photo/James Nord)

(Newser) – People in high-income areas tend to live longer than those in low-income areas. While that's not so surprising, the resulting difference in lifespans within the US might be: In some counties, people live to about age 87, while in others the figure is only 67, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. What's more, the study's authors say this gap is only increasing. Here's a look at the coverage:

  • See an interactive map of the health data here.
  • The county with the shortest life expectancy is Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota at 66.8 years, while the longest is Summit County in Colorado at 86.8 years. Newsweek breaks out the best and worst.
  • More generally, eight of the 10 counties where life expectancy has dropped the most since 1980 are in Kentucky, with the other two in Oklahoma and Alabama, per the Washington Post. Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and areas with Native American populations in the Dakotas (such as Oglala Lakota) were especially hard hit.
  • On the flip side, remote areas in Alaska's Aleutians Islands showed the biggest improvement—from 70.7 years in 1980 to 83.7 in 2014—while Manhattan (New York County) and Brooklyn (Kings County), and San Francisco also fared well.

  • So what's going on? Researchers say 75% of the gap is explained by factors such as smoking, obesity, hypertension, and health care, combined with broader ones such as race and economics, reports FiveThirtyEight.
  • All of which means "there are many interconnecting levers to pull in shaping health policy," per Axios. Or as the study authors put it: "Policy action targeting socioeconomic factors and behavioral and metabolic risk factors may help reverse the trend."
  • Between 1980 and 2014, the gap increased by about two years, reports NPR, which quotes a worried researcher: "With every passing year, inequality—however you measure it—has been widening over the last 34 years." He expects the trend to continue next year, which is "probably the most alarming part of the analysis."
  • Another way of looking at it, per NPR: "The discrepancy is equivalent to the difference between the low-income parts of the developing world and countries with high incomes."
  • The good news: Overall, the life expectancy at birth for Americans rose 5.3 years to an average of 79.1 from 1980 to 2014, per Fortune.
  • A blogger at Forbes thinks the paper overlooks one big factor: migration. It accounts for where people die, not where they were born or grew up. "Migration over lifetimes means that those of higher socio-economic status tend to cluster, as do those of lower. And that is a large part of our explanation here," writes Tim Worstall.

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