Placing much of the blame on smoking, a study chronicling the ongoing health crisis in Appalachia has concluded that the 13-state region suffers from a growing disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy, two key indicators of "a nation's health and well-being." The study, published in the August issue of Health Affairs, compared infant mortality and life expectancy rates in Appalachia with the rest of the United States between 1990 and 2013. It found while the rates were similar in the 1990s, by 2013 infant mortality across Appalachia was 16% higher than the rest of the country, while life expectancy for adults was 2.4 years shorter, the AP reports.
While the region has been the focus of the opioid epidemic in recent years, the study found one of the biggest culprits was likely the prevalence of smoking and the region's tendency to be "more accepting of tobacco use as a social norm." Gopal K. Singh, a co-author of the study, noted nearly 20% of Appalachian women report they smoked during pregnancy. In the rest of the country, it's 8%. "Smoking takes a tremendous toll on the health of Appalachians," the authors wrote. The study used the federal Appalachian Regional Commission to define the region, which covers 428 counties across 13 states, including all the counties in West Virginia, which has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. (Read more infant mortality stories.)