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U.S. Life Expectancy Lags Behind

Researcher Calls Findings 'Alarming,' Says Americans Need Help to Improve Preventable Risk Factors
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 15, 2011 -- The life expectancy in most counties in the U.S. lags substantially behind those in the nations with the best life expectancy, according to a new report.

In some counties, the life expectancy is similar to that in much less developed countries, the researchers found.

''It is a wake-up call for all of us," says researcher Ali Mokdad, PhD, professor of global health at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.

''Americans have higher risk factors and are paying for those in lower life expectancy than in similar countries," he tells WebMD. "We are left behind and everyone else is moving forward. For the U.S., it is alarming."

''Lots and lots of counties in the U.S. are not making as much progress as we think is possible as far as life expectancy," says Christopher Murray, MD, PhD, director of the Institute and the study's senior author.

The study is published today in the journal Population Health Metrics.

At the same time, the institute is releasing information on life expectancy in all U.S. counties from 1987 through 2007, the latest year for which data is available.

U.S. Life Expectancy: The Comparisons

The researchers looked at the years 2000 to 2007, using a statistical model to estimate life expectancy in the U.S. They compared it to that of the 10 nations with the best life expectancies.

In 2007, the life expectancy at birth was 75.6 years for men and 80.8 years for women in the U.S. Globally, that ranks U.S. men and women at 37th place.

The top 10 nations include:

  • Iceland
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • Japan
  • Australia
  • Norway
  • Canada
  • Spain
  • France
  • The Netherlands

U.S. Life Expectancy: County by County

The researchers found large differences in the U.S. county by county. For women, they found that life expectancies ranged from 16 calendar years ahead to more than 50 behind, when compared to the top 10 nations. For men, the life expectancy ranges from 15 years ahead to more than 50 behind.

Across all counties, the life expectancy in 2007 ranged from 65.9 to 81.1 years for men. For women, the range was 73.5 to 86 years.

Translated, the researchers say this means some counties' life expectancy was like that of the top 10 nations 50 years ago.

For women and men, Mississippi had the lowest life expectancies.

The best places to live, life span wise? For women, Collier, Fla., where the average life span was 86 years. That beats France, Switzerland, and Spain.

For men, it's Fairfax County, Va., where the average life expectancy is 81.1 years. That is better than Japan and Australia.

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