Life Expectancy Falling in 561 Rural Counties
Nearly one out of four rural Americans live in counties where women in the last decade can expect to live shorter lives.
Life expectancy for women declined in 737 U.S. counties from 1997 to 2007, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation at the University of Washington.
Only 38 of those counties were urban; 138 were exurban counties; and 561 of the counties with declining female longevity were in rural America.
Nationally, the researchers found, longevity in the U.S. is falling behind most other industrialized countries. More than 8 out of ten U.S. counties have longevity rates that are falling further behind averages in other industrialized countries.
The map above shows the change in female longevity in rural counties from ’97 to ’07. Counties in yellow had declining female longevity. In the yellow-green counties, female longevity lengthened, but at less than the national average of 1.2 years during this time period.
The average age of death for women increased in the purple counties at greater than the national average.
(To see a larger version of the map, click on it. To download a full set of the IHME data, go here.)
Just under 7.7% of the total U.S. population lives in a county with declining female longevity. But 24.7% of the total U.S. rural population lives in one of these counties and 20.2% of the exurban population lives in a county where female longevity has been declining.
There is a huge variance in life expectancy across U.S. counties. In rural counties, the longest living women, at 84.7 years, can be found in Teton County, Wyoming. The men with the greatest longevity live in tiny Los Alamos, County, New Mexico, at 80.1 years.
The rural residents with the greatest life expectancy live largely in resort communities — particularly in skiing counties in the west. The chart below shows the fifty rural counties with the longest living women (on the left) and men (on the right).
Holmes County, Mississippi, has the shortest average lives for both men and women in rural America. The average age of death for women in Holmes County was 73.5 years in 2007. For men, it was 65.9 years.
These averages were the lowest in the country for all counties — urban, rural or exurban.
The chart below shows the fifty counties with the longest living men and women as of 2007.
The variation in life expectancy in rural America for men is shown in the map below.
In the dark purple counties, the average longevity for men is under 70 years. In the pink counties, longevity is less than the national average.
Only the blue counties are those with male longevity greater than the national average of 75.6 years.
In rural America, only 556 counties have male longevity rates above the national average — or 27% of all rural counties.
The researchers point to a number of factors that affect longevity. Individual health risks, from smoking to obesity to diabetes, are important.
The researchers also note the “poor — and worsening — national and local performance of US communities” in terms of health care. “The critical insight this work underscores is something that we’ve known for years — that both health and health care are produced locally,” Elliott Fisher, a physician at Dartmouth Medical School who studies regional variations, told the Washington Post.