The longest-living Americans can expect to survive decades longer than the worst off — and the explanation is far more complex than poverty, says a startling report on the nation's health disparities.
It turns out that where U.S. residents live, combined with race and income, plays a huge role in whether they die young, says a study issued Monday that contends the differences are so stark it's as if there are eight separate Americas instead of one.
Worse, the gaps in lifespan have persisted over 20 years, despite efforts to tackle them, concluded Dr. Christopher Murray of the Harvard School of Public Health, informs International Herald Tribune .
According to Henderson Gleaner, at the high end are Asian-American women living in Bergen County, N.J., who have an average life span of 91 years, while Native American men and women living in and around two reservations in southwest South Dakota have an average life expectancy of 58 years.
The researchers did their analysis of life span at the stateand county level across the United States using data collected between 1980 and 2000 by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.
The study concludes that, not counting the 214 million middle-income Americans (average per capita income of $24,640), there are at least seven clusters of people defined by geography and race who have life expectancies well above or below the norm.
"What's really striking is that the disparities are greatest in young and middle-aged people, which has traditionally been groups that we haven't spent much time worrying about," Murray said. "Yet we're seeing mortality levels in some subgroups of this segment in the U.S. that resemble those of some countries in West Africa."
Typically, researchers have focused on income, infant mortality, violence, AIDS and lack of health insurance to explain differences in mortality. But Murray said those factors account for only a small fraction of the variations his team found.
For instance, low-income, rural white populations in 112 counties in Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas - what the researchers term the Northland - have a life expectancy of 76.2 years for men and 81.8 years for women. Together, those numbers are well above the remaining white population in the country, which has a combined life expectancy of 77.1 years.
Curiously, Asian-American women in the United States -- many of whom are second-generation and have spent their whole lives here -- have a life expectancy that is three years longer than Japanese women, who, as a national group, are the longest-living in the world. Previous research suggests that people of Asian background lose their ``survival advantage'' after they are in the United States for a long time and have adopted a U.S. diet and habits, but the new study suggests that is not happening with those women.
Among states, Hawaiians are living longest, to about 80 for men and women. The other states with longer-living residents -- to about 78 -- are, ranked from No. 2 to No. 10: Minnesota, Utah, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, North Dakota, Rhode Island and California.
The District of Columbia is the worst place to live, with a life expectancy of 72 years. It is followed by Mississippi, 73.6 years, Louisiana, 74.2 years, Alabama, 74.4 years, and South Carolina, 74.8 years, informs San Jose Mercury News.
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