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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Hispanics Have Highest Life Expectancy in U.S.

Study Shows Life Expectancy for Hispanics in U.S. is 80.6
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 14, 2010 -- Hispanics in the U.S. tend to live longer than non-Hispanics, a study shows.

The study shows that life expectancy for Hispanics is 80.6. Life expectancy is 78.1 for Non-Hispanic whites and 72.9 for non-Hispanic blacks. Overall, the life expectancy at birth for all Americans is 77.7.

The study, which appears in the October issue of Vital and Health Statistics, marks the first time that this longevity information has included reliable statistics for Hispanics living in the U.S. Researchers analyzed 2006 data from death certificates in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories.

Hispanic males' life expectancy at birth is 77.9, but their life expectancy once they reach the age of 65 is 84. Hispanic women's life expectancy at birth is 83.1 years, and this number reaches 86.7 if they live to 65, the study shows.

"The results show that the Hispanic population has higher life expectancy at birth and at almost every subsequent age than non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic black populations," conclude the researchers who were led by Elizabeth Arias, PhD, of the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md.

The phenomenon "seems paradoxical because on average the Hispanic population has lower socioeconomic status than the non-Hispanic white population," she says.

Why Hispanics Live Longer

Exactly why Hispanics live longer than other populations is not fully understood, Hal Strelnick, MD, chief of the division of community health and the director of Hispanic Center of Excellence at Montefiore Medical Center, tells WebMD.

"Hispanics have birth outcomes that are better than would be expected, and some of this has to do with the ‘healthy immigrant’ phenomenon, which states that people who immigrate are young and active and tend to be healthier than those who don't," he says. Another possibility is that Hispanic communities are often based around strong social support networks, which can be "very protective."

Smoking and other risky behaviors may also be less common among certain members of the Hispanic community. "We don't have a lot of good studies to be able to say these are the risk factors that are more common or less common in these groups," he says.

The next step is to further classify Hispanics according to country of origin to see if any longevity trends emerge, the researchers say.

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