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50+: Live Better, Longer

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U.S. Life Expectancy Lags Behind

Researcher Calls Findings 'Alarming,' Says Americans Need Help to Improve Preventable Risk Factors

U.S. Life Expectancy: County by County continued...

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.

U.S. Life Expectancy Lag: Explaining It

Mokdad cites four reasons for the lag in life expectancy in the U.S.:

  • Socioeconomic factors such as income and education. More education, he says, translates to a person being more likely to seek and follow medical advice.
  • Access to health care. Some rural areas have shortages of doctors, he says, and many people lack health insurance.
  • Quality of medical care. While some areas have superior care, many others do not, he says.
  • Preventable risk factors such as obesity and smoking. Mokdad cites this as ''the main reason in this country we are behind."

However, Mokdad says the blame in not doing a better job in preventing obesity and stopping smoking lies in the system, more than in the people.

Behavior change, he says, requires a supportive community. "Many neighborhoods are not safe to walk in," he says, citing traffic hazards as well as crime.

The U.S. needs to take a page from those of other countries, he says, such as Australia, which promotes public health with community programs. "Australia invested in a lot of programs at the community level," he says. The country has a widespread skin cancer prevention campaign, for instance.

More public health programs that reach out to the community are needed in the U.S., he says.

U.S. Life Expectancy: Perspective

Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH, director of the Global Health Institute at Emory University, prefers to call the new report ''enlightening" rather than ''alarming." He reviewed the report for WebMD but was not involved in the research.

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